How a Shirt Should Fit – The Principles of Fit

Covering almost a half of your body, the fit of your shirt is paramount for looking your best. We break it down from neck to waist.

The fit of a shirt is of particular importance due to its centrality in the body and its proximity to the face. When a shirt is the foreground of an outfit, such as when a person isn’t wearing outerwear or layers, the fit in the torso is focal. A well-fitting shirt will emphasize the positives of a physique without drawing unnecessary attention to the negatives. The shirt will outline the body without telling too many secrets, offering a flattering figure without emphasizing every curve and crevice.

When a shirt is in the background, such as with layers, the placket and the collar is of greater importance. In both cases, the shirt serves to draw the eye towards the face. With layers this effect may be pronounced by the V-shape created by lapels or a half-zipped jacket. Without layers, this can be achieved by unfastening a button or wearing a v-neck.

The collar is also of great importance because it frames the face. For these reasons, it is particularly valuable to pay attention to the fit of your shirts.

How Should Dress Shirts Fit?

how should dress shirts fit infographic

Button-up Shirts: Dress and Casual


The collar should lay about your neck without constricting it. You want the collar to be as close to the neck as is comfortable, which will allow ventilation without too large a gap. Typically, you should be able to fit two fingers into the shirt without it cutting into your neck. Any more fingers, and the shirt may be too loose – any fewer, and the collar is likely too tight. The shape of the collar is also important as it frames the face. Pointed collars flatter a round face whereas spread collars fit a narrow face. Tall spread collars suit long necks while short point collars suit short necks. The objective is to have a collar that balances your face.

tight collar of button down shirt


The sleeves should not be so tight that you can see the details of your arm, but neither should they billow. They should allow motion and airflow, but not excessively. The shirt cuff should end where your palm meets your wrist, which is about an inch beyond your wrist bone. It should be sufficiently tight that it does not move past your palm, but it should still be loose enough that there is no restriction and air moves freely. Bending your arm should not make your cuff move up your wrist more than an inch.

sleeves of a dress shirt


The shoulder seam should meet the corner of your shoulder bone, which is essentially the point on your shoulder which is the farthest from the center of your chest. Armholes should be comfortable in motion–they should not be so tight that they cut into the underarm. However, avoid excessive space. An easy way to check this is to tuck your shirt into your pants –  if lifting your arms 45 degrees lifts your shirt out of your pants more than an inch or so, your armholes are likely too low.

man wearing dress shirt with arms extended


The torso should be slim enough that your shirt does not give any more than 3-4 inches of fabric when you pull the shirt lightly away from your chest or your stomach (with light pulling, the fabric should not be taut against the skin). However, the shirt should allow ease of motion, and skin-tight shirts are usually not preferable.

untucked shirt length diagram

As it concerns tucked shirts, the length should be sufficient such that normal motion will not untuck the shirt. Dress shirts intended to be tucked will have shirt-tails, while more casual shirts made to be untucked have flat or curved bottoms. As it concerns untucked shirts, the shirt should be long enough that normal motion does not reveal your skin or undershirt. Untucked shirts should not be longer than the bottom of your pant zipper.

TIP: If you have a shirt that is too large in the waist, one trick is to use the military tuck. To do this, pinch the sides of the shirt at the sides of the waist until you have an equal amount of extra fabric on both sides. Now fold that fabric back on itself and keep it in place using your pant waist.

Tshirts: Long sleeve and short sleeve


Crew neck collars should not be tight, it should be loose about the neck. A shallow V works with many outfits. The deepest a V should go is the middle of your sternum, an inch above your nipples. Henleys work fine buttoned or unbuttoned, but the button placket should not be any deeper than the bottom of a deep v-neck.

v neck cotton long sleeve shirt

From Neiman Marcus


Whether the shirt is a long or short sleeve tee, it should fit slim through the body and straight at the sides. The average person does not want a tight shirt that will emphasize every bump and curve of the body. However, you do want the shirt to generally outline your body. Opt for a slim shirt that, when lightly pulled at the sternum or your stomach, only allows 3-4 inches of pull. If you are physically fit, you may want the shirt to be slim enough that it emphasizes the V shape of your torso. This will likely be a bit tighter than the previously mentioned shirt.

The shirt should at least completely cover your belt, but it should not be so long that it goes past your pant zipper.

grey cotton t shirt

From Nordstrom


The shoulder seam should remain on the corner of one’s shoulder. Short sleeve tees can have slim, and even tight sleeves. However, it is best to avoid sleeves that are in any way constricting. Avoid shirts with sleeves which are so tight that they cut into your bicep. If you are fit you can get away with something that puts greater emphasis on your physique. Generally avoid shirts that have sleeves which bell out at the sides, as it is unflattering.

Long sleeve tees will be a bit looser in the arms, although not quite as loose as a dress shirt. The length of the sleeve should go to the end of your wrist. Again, avoid low armholes–they should be sufficiently high such that the shirt isn't moving much when you move your arms.

NOTE: Concerning polo shirts, apply tee-shirt rules to the torso and sleeves, and apply button-up rules to the collar.


Undershirts should fit much like tees, but they can be a bit tighter. It is best to have the shirt in a grey similar to your skin tone – the shirt will blend in more and be less visible. When wearing undershirts beneath button-ups remain sensitive to the undershirt’s collar type. If you are completely buttoning a shirt, use a crew-neck undershirt. If you are unbuttoning one button use a shallow v-neck. If you are unfastening two or more buttons, it’s best to use a deeper v-neck. The reasoning here is that it is best for an undershirt to be hidden.

Ending Notes

When shopping for shirts, always use prudence. Keeping slimness, placement and comfort in mind when comparing your options. When it comes to style, there are always exceptions, but the above guidelines will prevent you from making any serious mistakes.

Nicholas Taverna is a style enthusiast, a writer, and a Financial Planner with Royal Alliance Associates. He works out of his office in Port Jefferson, New York and Brooklyn, New York. In his spare time, he also dabbles in tennis and gourmet cooking.

  • Nicholas Crawford

    Good tips and illustrations.

    Couple thoughts – I haven’t encountered something that had too high of armholes. The problem is always the reverse. Who do they make these for?

    With buttoning shirts, I would encourage leaving the top two buttons undone. The only exception would be a sterile work environment, a floppy collar (get Wurkin Stiffs or buy shirts with full plackets), or a polo that only has two buttons to begin with.

    For the undershirt, I recently started going without an undershirt entirely and highly recommend it. If I do wear one, I’ll usually wear a complementary color that shows it was an intentional move. The upside down triangle of white wasn’t getting any love, and I’m better off without it!

  • Greg_s

    Brand suggestions would be a great way to finish the article.

  • jwehr

    @GREG_S The best OTR shirts I’ve found to get the proper fit are Express’ Extra Slim MX1 shirts. They’re shy on quality but are amazing if your a slimmer fellow used to the wind sails that most places sell. I’m 5’11”, ~170lbs with a (not completely accurate) 40″ chest. The 1MX medium could use about an inch extra in the shoulders to fit well. Everything else is great (imo). I dry clean them and they wear well but you can see some quality issues in the buttons and the peaks of the collar.

    Primer and other sites have done a lot of touting of MTM sites like Ratio, Blank Label, Indochino, etc…


    The author of this post is a barely employed front desk assistant of a tennis club…

    Come on Primer…

  • http://Credibilityornot.. Johnathan

    Whether or not he is a “credible” source, his writing is fluid and professional. He gave great tactics to solve knowledge gaps for someone like me who only occasionally looks at primer for simple style info.

    As with any writing, anywhere.. you should be concerned with thinking the source is credible and look to back up any claims made. I’m sure Primer has editors that looked over the article before letting it go live.

    Excellent work Nicholas, and good luck with breaking out of front desk assistant! ;]

  • Andrew

    “No Credibility”: Nicholas is a very active, and respected member of the Male Fashion Advice subreddit on Reddit. If he can get the respect from the tough cookies over there regarding style, he certainly has mine.

    • Just A Bloke

      Good point. If Nick can get paid for talking about clothes, then good for him.

  • Nicholas

    Dear sirs,

    I appreciate all the comments and responses. As per branding and such I would love to give a more detailed response as soon a I get off my train. However I would like to briefly address the credibility issue.

    As a long-time member of the style community, I am certainly concerned about the credibility of any authors I may come across, so I understand why you may be upset. However this is merely a misunderstanding. I haven’t updated my LinkedIn in nearly two years (which I’m assuming is the offending query) and I’ve held two other jobs since I worked at the tennis club. I’m currently an office manager for a financial company located in long island. I unfortunately did not have the foresight to see this becoming an issue. Additionally, please forgive any errors in this comment, as I am sendin this from my phone.

    Thank you for your concern. I look forward to interfacing with you all in the near future.

    • hilldomain

      how does working as a financial manager give you credibility as a fashion writer? being a part of the “fashion community” is very vague as well. You don’t necessarily have to have a job in the fashion industry to correctly research and write an acceptable and accurate article. But you also don’t site where you got your information that will give you less credibility as well.

      • Just A Bloke

        Oi, get off Nick’s back, he’s only tryina earn a crust innit.

    • Just A Bloke

      You’re welcome Nick, but don’t call me sir.

  • Nicholas

    Hey guys, I’m back to respond to some of your comments

    @JOHNATHAN @Andrew
    Thank you very much for the kind words!

    @Greg_S. In this article I wanted to focus primarily on fit. Brands are certainly important, but the issue is that different brands have different cuts for different people. Express MX1 may be the optimal fit for one fellow while Brooks Brothers ESF fits another. Additionally, price is a huge factor. However for the sake of usefulness I will suggest some of my favorite quality brands for the value. Uniqlo offers shirts that are of superior quality and fit to other shirts in the price range, especially on sale. Brooks Brothers shirts tend to be of great construction quality. As previously mentioned, Express offers some slim options, and J Crew also offers some solid casual shirts if you can get them on sale. Land’s End Canvas construction is also quite good for the price if Uniqlo is not available in your region, although you will very likely need to slim them down at a tailor. If you’re willing to spend a touch more money, check out Gitman Vintage and Epaulet. Your best bet is to just go out and try on shirts until you find what you like. Most of my shirts are from Brooks Brothers, and I just get them slimmed down at a tailor.

  • Seth M. Baker

    The best-fitting shirts I’ve ever owned were custom made for me while I was traveling in Cambodia. Each one cost about $15. They’ve lasted longer than standard mall junk, and I find that I still enjoy wearing them.

    Since this isn’t an option for most people, I would recommend following this guide to get something pretty close, then taking them to a tailor for final alterations. This costs more but, in my opinion, increase the value of the shirt exponentially.

  • Mathew

    Thanks for a great article. Best fitting shirts I’ve found so far are from Sangar. A company in Estonia who just opened a new online store that uses fitting room that helps to find the best fit. Extra slim shirts are just great, just ordered a custum made shirt as well. Great quality for a reasonable price.

  • Stan Solomon

    Thanks for the article. Clear concise points that you can use and are clear and effective.

  • Randy

    Check out sleevelinks at I have found them to work wonders on my t-shirts.

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  • ace


    In regards to the length of shirts, how low should the sides be?

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  • ufquack

    Why not use models that look like real men instead of flaming lightweight homos?

  • nth

    What does the phrase “Generally avoid shirts that have sleeves which bell out at the sides, as it is unflattering” mean? What are sleeves that bell out at the sides?

    • Just A Bloke

      Scrub that, just avoid wearing shirts fullstop, too formal.

  • Rishi Chullani

    This is a great article! I haven’t read any of Nicholas’ prior work, but if he is genuinely interested in Fashion, I do not see how others have a right to attack his credibility.
    I agree with all of the points in this article. Few things I would add (some of which aren’t necessarily related to fit) are:
    (1) Straight or pointed collars are long narrow collars and generally are considered best for rounder faces, in order to reduce perceived width of the face. Wide or ‘English spread’ collars are best used with narrower faces so as to make the wearer look more ‘filled-out’.
    (2) Back Pleats require more fabric from the shirt maker but allow for greater freedom of movement. The most common form of pleat is the center box pleat. Alternatives include side pleats.
    (3) Front plackets – the placket is a piece of material on the front of the shirt where the buttonholes are placed, and should be a separate piece of cloth sewn to the front. The placket gives the shirt a definite centerline and provides greater rigidity, so that it is easier to put buttons through the buttonholes.

    (4) Shirt sleeves should be long so that 1/4 to 1/2 an inch of cuff is exposed when warn with a suit.

    • Roger

      thx for clarifying “plackets” … that one had me stumped till I read your explanatory post…

  • custom dress shirts

    I do usually the tailoring cost isn’t that expensive. I have broad shoulders so more often than not I have to for suits and shirts alike. Plus it looks better than that boxy look.

  • Ameya

    Hey, thanks this is great. Is it possible to find any information on how measurements can be taken for sticking a shirt from body measurements? For e.g if my chest is 39 inch and stomach is 32 inch, how much loosening do I need for a normal fitting shirt? Are there any formulas? Trying to learn and hence would be of great help. Thanks.

    • Ameya


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  • John Preston

    So what do you do if you have extremely broad shoulders and deep chest with a relatively small waist? My t shirts look huge in the body as I have a 48″ chest at 6′ 210lbs and a 35″ waist. I am 50 and too old for some fashions and too many shirts look bad on me.

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  • boatingnerd

    Check out SleeveLinks, any T shirt can have custom fit, and they are inexpensive. I’ve been using them for years.

  • Farhan Mosavi

    Hey Nicholas. Thanks for this useful article.

    I was wondering what is the correct sleeve length of a short sleeved button up shirt? I have read in another article here on Primer written by another author that if you are wearing short sleeves, be it a T shirt, polo, or button up, the sleeve should end at the middle of the bicep.

    But I have seen some models and movie stars breaking this rule. What is your opinion?

    • Just A Bloke

      Bruv, looking for rules where there is none, is making a rod for your own back.

  • Just A Bloke

    Keep your shirt on!

  • Volt

    military tuck .. what the fuck.. they usually use shirt stays

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  • Drywaller

    Just finished making my own shirt from a pattern, which doesn’t fit well; came here to figure out how to change the sizing of the peices, and the advice is helpful. In boot camp, 30 years ago, my DI was taking me to a function where it was important to him that I look my best. He told me to do fix my shirt in exactly the way described here.

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  • maria johns

    Very detailed tips !
    Not every shirt fits you right according to your size and shape somehow you have to alter it anyway. For this reason one should choose online tailored dress shirt not only because these can be design and order online but also for the perfect fit that you have desired for.

  • Sadaf Sheikh

    amazing tips.., love to read about these tips.
    you may also like to read this awesome blog:

  • AFL Live

    Great tips!! Now I can make something with my own idea,

  • David Smith

    Thank you so much for this best idea