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These Shirts Mean Business


Some things shout their value in bold capital letters, others whisper it in 9-point font. When buying a car, for instance, it’s not hard to tell the differences in quality and performance between something that costs $100,000 and something that costs a quarter of that: you get what you pay for. With shirts the same is true. The correlation between cost and quality is just as pronounced. The distinctions, however, are far more subtle.


For most of us the main barrier to discovering the benefits of a beautifully-made shirt is the price.


While a man might spend thousands on a suit cut from beautiful cloth, with full canvas construction and hand-stitched details, the shirt that goes underneath it tends to get less consideration. This seems like a disconnect to our tailored clothing buyer Adam Gallo, who explains the disparity in terms of real estate. “A multi-million dollar home could look beautiful from the outside,” he says. “But then you go inside and everything’s not really well coordinated and nicely done.” Like a house with great curb appeal but a shoddy, builder-basic interior, wearing a poorly-made shirt under a beautiful suit doesn't make a whole lot of sense. “Who really benefits from what’s inside?” asks Gallo. “The person who lives there. In this case it’s the wearer.” The contrast between a $99 (or less) shirt and one from brands like Eton, Munro, Canali, and Zegna that costs two or three times as much is profound, he says, and it must be worn to be fully understood.


You get this great balance of luxury and performance. It looks and feels smooth and silky, and it won’t start to look matted or frayed over time.


The perfect shirt starts with the perfect yarn, Gallo explains, spun from top quality Egyptian, Sea Island or Supima cotton. Higher quality cotton is more costly, but it distinguishes itself both in feel and durability. “You get this great balance of luxury and performance,” he says, comparing the fabric makeup of a shirt to the thread count in your bedsheets. “It looks and feels smooth and silky, and it won’t start to look matted or frayed over time.”


While the basic makeup of every shirt is a body, a collar and a pair of sleeves, there’s a whole world of detail in the way it’s designed to fit. “It has to be able to move with you and not react against you,” says Adam, listing off dozens of variables—from the shape of the armhole to the pitch of the sleeve—that go into crafting a shirt that feels great when worn. Removing his suit jacket to reveal a trim, white button-down, he swings his arms and swivels his torso vigorously to demonstrate. The shirt moves with him, remaining perfectly fitted to his body all the while.


Much like a suit or a tie, the outer simplicity of a good shirt belies the complexity within. While the number of stitches in a collar or the specific way a button is sewn aren’t obvious to the casual observer, they make a significant difference in the way a garment stands up over time. Collars and cuffs maintain their shape without bubbling or collapsing, fabrics resist wrinkles and the whole package looks good as new after a trip through the washing machine.


“It’s the details,” says Adam. “All these little nuances are what goes into a quality shirt. A shirt of lesser quality, the collar’s not going to sit as nicely, it’s not going to button flush when you put a tie up against it. It’ll break away, it’ll cave in, it’ll collapse.” He admits he could go on for hours about the fits, fabrics and engineering that makes shirts worthy of their prices, but he also recognizes that there’s only so much you can say to make the point. You really need to own one to fully understand.