We’ll come out with it very plainly, men’s styling is a lot more complex and nuanced than you might think. For so long, we’ve catered to a bride’s wedding-day fashion debut and all of the choices she has when it comes to silhouette, fabric, color, coordinating accessories, change-out options for after-party events, etc. We’ve written fully-fleshed-out style stories on illusion dresses, dresses with pockets, long-sleeved styles, overskirt options, colorful couture, feathered fashion, dresses for garden weddings, because we want to learn all about the sheer endlessness of looks just like our readers do. For the guys, though, even though there are fewer major categories of attire to consider, breaking the tuxedo or suited look down into pieces is where we can start seeing variety and also get some guiding intel.
Because, yes, at the end of the day, a groom, his groomsmen, and guests want to peacock it out a bit—it’s a special occasion, why not?!—but they also want to follow some rules to make sure all the elements of their wardrobe make sense and fit the flow and feel of the day. While the shirt might not seem like the linchpin of their wedding-day look, we spoke with a stylist and menswear wizard who assured us that a shirt provides the staging for the rest of the ensemble. “Which shirt to wear to a wedding boils down to three things: firstly, the dress code; secondly, what you feel most comfortable wearing; and thirdly, what looks best on your body type,” describes Nick Arrington, image consultant and men’s fashion model.
The Basics of a Dress Shirt
Dress shirts are certainly more decorous than a tee shirt or polo shirt, but that doesn’t mean every button down shirt with long sleeves is on par in terms of formality for a wedding. Arrington tells us that “it’s important to go over the basics of a dress shirt, first, and then move into the varying types, starting with the most formal, closing with the least formal, and some that should not be worn to a wedding, if ever.” As a note, Arrington prides himself on being a staunch proponent of the idiom “classics always win,” so his styling cues do lean more formal.
On a dress shirt, the collar is often the most distinctive part of the garment. There are some who believe that collars should be chosen to counterbalance a certain facial shape (i.e. for narrower faces, a spread collar is best; for rounder faces, a pinpoint collar is best), but we see it as more of a personal taste call.
Pinpoint or Classic
Consider the pinpoint or classic collar your base point of reference—your ‘standard’ collar, so to speak. “You’ll find this on a typical dress shirt you would wear to the office, but they can also be found on a formal tuxedo shirt,” relays Arrington. Depending on the anatomy you choose to follow with your pinpoint or classic collar, you can make this shirt more or less formal. But as a general rule of thumb, “a well-tailored plain, white dress shirt will suffice for any formal occasion – like a wedding – with the correct accessories.”
Alternatively, a spread collar—especially one that is ‘tall,’ with a higher collar band, is a bit more formal, extremely versatile, and decidedly on-trend. “To the untrained eye, a spread collar generally looks the same as a pinpoint; however, the ends of the collar are ‘spread’ away from your collar bone,” defines Arrington.
When the points of the collar aggressively spread away from your collar bone, it’s called a cutaway collar. Arrington continues that “they are cut back far enough that the points are hidden under the lapels of your jacket. If you see a gentleman in one of these, this is far from his first formal event. He’s a seasoned black-tie attendee and he doesn’t mess around. Or, I may have dressed him. It’s my personal favorite.”
The club collar became popular in the mid-1800s, as part of Eton College’s (where Prince William and Prince Harry went to school) dress code. Though it isn’t seen too much today, the rounded collar, or “soft” collar, as Arrington calls it, is still an interesting and exclusive look. You can turn up the level of sophistication by keeping the tie knot small and sticking a horizontally lying metallic pin across the spread to connect the two points. Still, as a largely nostalgic and preppy aesthetic, you probably wouldn’t be turning up to a wedding wearing a club collar unless you were a true style-phile.
A wing-tip collar has been en vogue for decades: It features a small standing collar with the points (tips, like the title) pressed down so they stick out horizontally, like wings. “You would never wear a shirt like this outside of pairing it with a tuxedo and, more importantly, a bowtie,” relays Arrington. “If the groom is wearing a winged collar tuxedo shirt, chances are he may even be donning tails and the event’s dress code could even be white-tie. Posh, to say the least.”
To add, collar stays will be your greatest defense against flaps flying all over the place at your wedding or one that you’re attending. “The last thing you want is your collar flapping around or getting out of place, and the easiest way to prevent this are collar stays,” assures Arrington. “They’re little tabs, typically made from brass. I have seen them in sterling silver, gold, and even platinum. You just pop them in the pinpoints of your collar, and if you’re forgetful like me or forget to take out your collar stays in the wash, go with brass, that’s your most economical option.”
Even though cuffs are mostly concealed when worn under a suit or tuxedo jacket, the few centimeters that are visible can still be special and uniquely formal or less formal. You can choose between two basic types of cuffs, and then make small tweaks to the shape of the cuff. Rounded edges are traditionally more elegant and refined, while straight cuffs skew a bit more relaxed and casual.
These types of cuffs are the standard for most dress shirts. Featuring a simple button closure, it’s a super simple, but streamlined and efficient look. Moreover, you can opt for a one or two-button barrel cuff, which essentially just relates to the tightness of the cuff. Two-button barrel cuffs are a bit longer and can be made more snug at the wrist—they also read more formal than their one-button counterparts. So, for wedding guests, a two-button barrel cuff may be the perfect balance of traditional and formal, without overshadowing the groom or his groomsmen.
Whereas a barrel cuff uses buttons to secure the band in place, a French cuff is folded back over itself and fastened by cufflinks. Arrington notes that “the distinction of this cuff, in using cufflink closures, adds a level of formality and sophistication to the shirt you’d want for a wedding.” Whether the groom and his groomsmen decide to wear tuxedos or tailored suits, the choice to wear French cuffs will always be the more formal and advisable recommendation.
And as for the cufflinks to go with the French cuffs, “I would recommend something simple that matches the rest of your hardware. For example, if you are wearing a signet ring or watch, your cufflinks should follow suit,” says Arrington. “I would discourage any novelty, too, when it comes to questions of formality. Will anyone take you seriously with jack-o-lantern cufflinks? Even if the wedding is actually on Halloween, don’t risk being that guy.”
Don’t get thrown off by the strangeness of the name, placket simply refers to the doubled layer of fabric in the center of the shirt that holds buttons on the shirt fastening. There are several types of them, but for the sake of brevity, Arrington notes the below as the three most common and suitable for wedding events—ranging from least to most formal.
That being said, you can bump the formality and wedding-worthiness up on your wardrobe with studs. “In formal settings, like weddings, these are used in place of buttons to fasten your shirt. A gentleman’s studs match his cufflinks, for a look that is evolved and elegant,” shares Arrington.
On a basic dress shirt, the buttons that close the shirt are visible. It’s the most traditional, no-fuss look that can work in both professional and social settings.
A more formal design completely hides the buttons of a shirt. This clean, polished, and modern semblance looks great for a wedding and pairs sublimely with a bowtie.
A more formal design that features a special piqué fabric sewn on the front. The pleated patterning is very high-society and a perfect fit for grooms and groomsmen to wear with classic tuxedos.
When Each Type of Shirt is Preferred
Once you have a clear understanding of dress-shirt vernacular and how each is constructed, you can begin to think about the wedding settings conducive to wearing each, respectively. Going back to Arrington’s earlier point, remember that formality is definitely influential, but not the only factor in determining what type of shirt you should go with for an upcoming wedding (if not your own). Comfort-level and body-flattery are important, as well. “So, if you do not like or feel confident in bowties, it’s probably not a good idea to wear a wing-collared tuxedo shirt,” offers Arrington. “If you are a larger gentleman, a bibbed shirt with pleats may make you look wider, and thus, it’s not the particular style for you. Luckily, this is a shirt type for all of us.”
Using “black-tie”—the pinnacle of formality (aside from white-tie)—as a starting point, Arrington notes which combination of shirt and accessories best aligns with the gentleman’s role in the wedding(from attendee to groom.
As an Attendee
As a guest for the wedding, if “black-tie” is noted on the invitation, you can opt for any of the above-mentioned shirts and feel confident in your choice. Arrington cautions that you may want to leave the winged collar for the groom—it’s a sort of thunder he may want to keep as the guest of honor on his day. “Black-tie optional is always a tricky one,” he continues. “I think couples default to a black-tie optional dress code, because their guests may not necessarily be black-tie ready. But if you can do your homework and adopt these steadfast style rules, you’ll be ready when black-tie takes center stage. Well, at least when it comes to your shirt.”
As a Groomsmen
As a groomsman for the wedding, “you are pretty much at the mercy of what the groom wants or assigns to his wedding party,” concedes Arrington. “The best thing you can do is make sure your shirt is pressed, clean, and tailored properly.”
As the Groom
As the groom for the wedding, you should always look the most formal (for your setting). “Assuming the dress code is black-tie, a groom should stand out from his groomsmen in every way,” says Arrington. “I would suggest a bibbed shirt, studs, and a bowtie. Again, classics always win.”
Fit and Tailoring
Of course, once you’ve found a shirt for the wedding, you’ll need to make certain that it fits you, not just the occasion. Arrington tells Brides that “in order for your shirt to fit you properly, you’ll need something made-to-measure or off the rack with a certain amount of tailoring.”
How to Appropriately Assess Fit
The best way to decide whether tailoring is needed (and this should be a given, even in small instances, to ensure your wedding appearance is as perfect as possible) is to see how the shirt looks tucked in. “If the shirt mushrooms or balloons over the waistband of your trousers, it’s too big,” promises Arrington. “To prevent your shirt from looking like a small parachute around your waist, take your shirt to your nearest tailor and ask them to adjust the back of your shirt. Essentially, they will taper the shirt, folding the access material in the back and sewing darts into it—you can see where the fabric is being pulled.”
If the shirt is still too big, even once the darts are added, then you’ve most likely bought the wrong size entirely. To avoid having too much work to do on your gentleman’s getup, “visit a cleaners, a tailoring shop, or department store and ask an associate to measure your neck and arms for a dress shirt.”
Other Types of Shirts to Consider
Since the wedding world is constantly evolving, turning trends into newfound traditions, we asked Arrington if he could sound off on a number of other shirt types and give us clear-cut answers on whether or not they’re “I do” apropos—even for more relaxed dress codes.
The Office Shirt
The epitome of business casual, the office shirt is an article of clothing most likely to be worn in a corporate environment. Usually sported in white, blue, or pink hues, the workplace workhorse is likely to be a pure-cotton Oxford or a herringbone-woven button-down.
Can you wear it? Short answer: Yes, but with caveats
“Typically, when people ask me ‘Can I get away with this,’ my answer is ‘no,’” says Arrington. “I turn this question around on my client, would you want anyone ‘getting away’ with anything at your wedding? If you are ever asking yourself if you can ‘get away’ with something, chances are, you are going to fail at adhering to the dress code.”
“That said, if the dress code is not black-tie, you can confidently wear a shirt you’d wear to the office with your suit,” he says. “I do encourage solid colors and avoiding button-down collars like the plague. Button-down collars are far too informal for a wedding. You wear those on a casual Friday to the office. What will dress up your office shirt is precision tailoring and a solid steam. If it fits well and is wrinkle free, no one will know you wear this shirt on a random Tuesday at your desk.”
The overshirt is an outerwear option that can be worn like a shirt, but styled like a jacket (when in between warm and cold seasons). This heavier material-made shirt typically features a collar, a button or zipper closure, and simple barrel cuffs that can be rolled up or down. Keep it open, over a T-shirt for a laid-back look, or buttoned up for a handsome hypebeast appearance.
Can you wear it? Short answer: No
“When I see overshirts, I think lumberjack or ‘man in the woods.’ In my lifetime, I have never seen a wedding dress code read ‘outdoorsy,’” says Arrington. “Overshirts are also loosely styled, open, and untucked. It doesn’t sound remotely formal, right? So, I wouldn’t do it.”
The Linen Shirt
The breathable, moisture-wicking secret weapon for staying cool and comfortable in the height of the spring and summer seasons. Given its delicate, yet durable construction (sustainably-sourced from fibers of the flax plant), the shirt can be stiff at first and require some breaking in.
Can you wear it? Short answer: Yes, but don’t confuse lightweight for a festive print
“Destination weddings are most certainly a thing; that we can agree on. The confusion arises when we are deciding what to wear after seeing the temperature of the destination,” shares Arrington. “If you are reaching for a tropical print shirt, please stop.”
“I usually do not recommend linen as these shirts hold wrinkles and photograph poorly. However, if you are at a destination wedding with sauna-like temperatures, I can concede,” he says. “What I would encourage is finding a cotton and linen-blend dress shirt to mitigate some of the wrinkles.”
Arrington notes a few extra tips to follow when choosing the right shirt to go with your suit. If all else fails, he confesses that you can not go wrong with a bright, white, crisp shirt. “It’s going to work with every suit no matter the swatch,” he shares. “Navy suit, white shirt. Black tuxedo, white shirt. Gray suit, white shirt. Navy jacket, white trousers, white shirt. Alternatively, if you do prefer a pop of color, then I would recommend a solid light pink or blue.”
Good manners and respect for the dress code also mean that you pay attention to the condition of your garments. “If you have had the shirt for a while, say a button is missing, strings are fraying, or there is any yellowing under the arms of the shirt (face it we all sweat), do not wear that shirt to a wedding,” cautions Arrington. “Buy a new shirt and wear this one exclusively for black-tie and formal occasions. It’ll be worth it. But, if a new shirt is not in your budget, Shout and Clorox should be your best friend.”