When Best to Wear Dress Shirts, Formal Shirts, Sport Shirts, or Polos

When Best to Wear Dress Shirts vs. Formal Shirts, vs. Sport Shirts vs. Polos

Having the right shirt for the occasion is a must, but knowing what shirt to wear and when is not as clear-cut as many men would like it to be. Here are a few guidelines you can use to determine which shirt you should pull from your closet.

Dress Shirts

Dress shirts are typically long-sleeved and button down the front. Most often worn with business suits, these shirts can be any color, and may even contain conservative patterns such as small checks or pin striping. Many dress shirts also contain a button-down collar, and may be worn with or without a tie. They are typically made from stiffer fabrics such as oxford, twill, or broadcloth, and will therefore have a more fitted appearance than sport shirts. When worn with a jacket and tie, they are considered semi-formal dress. Some occasions when you may wear a dress shirt include:

  • Church
  • Job interview
  • Formal business meeting
  • During a first date (or very important date with someone special)

Formal Shirts

Considered the dressiest of men’s shirts, formal ones are always white, and contain features such as front pleats and a tail on the bottom hem. These shirts are normally worn with white or black bow ties, and may have detachable cuffs that must be secured with cuff links. Formal shirts are typically worn with tuxedos to elaborate events such as weddings or formal dances. A general rule of thumb is that if an event is labeled “black tie” or “white tie”, a formal shirt is required.

Sport Shirts

The line between sport shirts and dress shirts is often very blurred; however, there are a few subtle differences. For example, sport shirts tend to have more whimsical designs, and are therefore available in more color combinations and pattern choices. They often have detailed features like pockets, and may be made from different fabrics such as denim. Sport shirts are typically worn in “business casual” settings, usually without a tie. They may also be worn with jeans or khaki pants any time you wish for a dressier look than what you can accomplish with just a t-shirt.

Polo Shirts

Polo shirts have a fold-down collar and only three buttons in front. They are short-sleeved shirts that are typically made from a breathable fabric such as cotton. Generally designed for more casual occasions, polo shirts may be worn with shorts, jeans, or dress slacks. Although polo shirts are sometimes worn with blazers, you should never wear a necktie with one. Some times when you may wish to wear a polo shirt include:

  • When playing golf or tennis
  • During sporting events or concerts
  • While sightseeing or running errands
  • When dining outdoors, particularly during warmer weather

Fashion experts differ as to whether certain shirts should be tucked or untucked; however, they generally agree that there are definitely situations where each type of shirt is most desirable. Having a few of each one in your closet is the best way to ensure you are ready for any occasion.


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