Tailor's note: April 2020 - Buying the right shirt size

Tailor's note: April 2020 - Buying the right shirt size

Designing your custom suit can be a tricky thing. Suddenly something you’ve only ever thought of as a whole item needs to be broken down into the sum of its parts.

These notes are based off conversations with customers and are designed to help make the process a little more familiar.


Disclaimer: These ideas are based solely on my opinion, please feel free to ignore, flout and disobey at every opportunity.


 Since more and more people are inquiring about custom shirts it got me thinking about the sizing.

It is annoying that shirts come by collar size because there isn’t necessarily a correlation between neck and chest size or sleeve length. But I assume it is because once upon a time the collar was the only part of a shirt which sat flush against the skin. Everything else was a little oversized and besides, it was almost indecent to be seen in your shirt sleeves so fit didn’t matter too much.

If the shirt is too long, just tuck it into your trousers. If it’s too big, your waistcoat hides that. If the sleeves are too long and poking out the bottom of your cuff, you could wear arm garters, like a hipster bartender.

But ever since the 90’s, as jackets lost their ubiquity, shirts have been getting slimmer and most Jermyn Street shirt-makers now offer their “slim fit” as standard. The problem with that is it becomes harder to hide ill-fitting garments. Not that some people try - reality TV stars seem to think button down shirts should fit like gym-wear so that they can show off how many protein shakes they’ve consumed.

So how do you go about finding the right size shirt?

First decide what it is for. Is it something you will wear a tie with? If so - the collar fit is still the most important thing because it can’t be altered. So start there and work down.

You should be able to fit 2 fingers comfortably into the fastened collar. Any more and it is too big. And less and it will be uncomfortable to wear, particularly as most shirts will lose roughly a 1/4” from its circumference after a few washes.

Next up - shoulders. 

n.b. If the shirt will only ever be worn open then ignore the above and start here.


A well fitting shirt should fall off the shoulders, rather than fight with them for space.

The seam should sit just a little off the shoulder rather than half way across it. Can you reach forward without feeling restricted? A shirt should first and foremost be comfortable, all that suffering to be beautiful is nonsense.

Simon Crompton in a shirt that fits well

Mark Wright in a shirt which doesn't fit well

Everything else on a shirt can be made smaller so if in doubt go a size up on the chest to ensure a good fit on the neck and shoulders.

Most shirt-makers offer 2 or 3 sleeve lengths so you should be able to find something which is roughly the right length, but a tailor can easily make this more accurate.

If going up a size to make the shoulders fit has left the body looser than you would like it, a tailor can also taper it to your tastes.

Shortening shirt sleeves and adding darts might cost you £35 but will make a £50 shirt fit like a £200 one.


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