What Do the Numbers on Men’s Dress Shirts Mean?

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Choosing the right fit in your collar dress shirt is essential to looking great at work, so knowing exactly what the numbers on dress shirts mean is important. Here is how to understand men’s dress shirt sizes, as well as some tips on choosing the right one for you. 

Numbers on the Shirt

You'll generally see two sets of numbers, whether you’re considering a shirt on the rack or looking at sizing options online. The first is the shirt’s neck width and the second is the length of the sleeve. There is a range of lengths for sleeves because you can adjust the sleeve length using the cuff buttons. Typically, you'll see options like 32-33, 34-35, and 36-37 for sleeve lengths.

When you’re ordering shirts online, the information will often be sorted more clearly by categories for sleeve length and size. 

How to Understand Alpha Sizing

Alpha sizes are the less specific sizes used for general clothing categories, like large, medium, and small. If you’re unaccustomed to dress shirts, you may be more used to this sort of sizing. Here are some alpha sizing categories to help you understand the numerical sizing on your dress shirts. 

  • 14.5 = Small
  • 15 = Small - Medium
  • 15.5 = Medium
  • 16 = Medium - Large
  • 16.5 = Large
  • 17 = Large - Extra Large
  • 17.5 = Extra Large
  • 18 = Extra Large - 2X Extra Large

Most Comfortable Stretchy Dress Shirts You Never Need To Iron:

What Other Elements Matter?

The numbers on the shirt aren’t the only thing that you need to consider when you’re choosing a great dress shirt that will fit you well. Here are some other elements to consider. 


Great dress shirts offer a few options in how your shirt fits, no matter your shirt size. These differing fits enable you to find the best fit shirt for your body. 

If you’ve ever been frustrated by swimming in a shirt way too big for you, or feeling constricted in one that is tight in the chest or arms, even though they should be the right size for you, a shirt that offers various fits is a great idea. 

  • Extra slim fit. If you have a more slender build, you’ll love how the extra trim fit follows your lines, rather than hanging off of your shoulders.
  • Slim fit. This is the perfect fit for men with broader shoulders and narrower hips. A slim fit dress shirt tapers down from the shoulders to gently follow your shape without clinging. 
  • Classic fit. The traditional fit gives you room to move comfortably while still showing off the contours of your body if you have a broader form. 
Material and Pattern

There are a variety of different materials available for both long sleeve and short sleeve dress shirts. Obviously, a short sleeve is more of a casual shirt, whereas long sleeves are more business casual, or even formal with the right features. Here are some of the best seller materials for men's dress shirts: poplin, twill, dobby, broadcloth, and supima cotton. You may also want to look for a cotton dress shirt that is non-iron, wrinkle-free, or that includes some elastic as a stretch dress shirt with a flex collar. 

Choose between French cuffs, button cuffs, or barrel cuffs. French Cuffs are the more formal menswear option. If you’re choosing a dress shirt for a wedding or to wear with a tuxedo shirt, this will be your best choice. However, French cuffs are less adjustable and may be a bit more difficult to wear. 

On the other hand, button cuffs look great too, while being a bit more functional. The French cuff has the edges of the cuff meet together in a pinch, while button cuffs overlap, whether they have one or two buttons. Cufflinks are also a good option to make you look more formal.


The collar is the defining feature of a button down shirt. After all, dress shirts are often referred to as “collared shirts.” The collar style you choose makes a big difference in how your shirt looks and what occasions it is appropriate for. 

  • Button-Down. This collar has a button at the edge of each tip, which you can use to attach the ends of your collar to your shirt. These collars were designed for wearing a collared shirt during sports like polo, to keep the collar from blowing up in the wind. Today, they are still functional for keeping collars down in the wind, but they can also make a distinct style statement. These tend to be more casual collars, great for an easy-going workplace, or wearing dress shirts for casual occasions. 
  • Hidden Button-Down. If you want to keep your collar firmly in place but don’t like the look of button-down collars or want a more formal appearance, this is a great solution. A little loop under the collar keeps the collar in place against the solid dress shirt. 
  • Cutaway. These collars have wide points that angle outwards. It’s a great collar for men who have long faces or faces that are more slender. It is also a modern twist that is quite stylish and a little bit playful. These collars are best worn with a tie. 
  • Point collar. Point collars can make a face look longer, which makes them a better choice for men with broader faces. This is the collar most of us think of when we think of an oxford dress shirt collar. They’re a good choice for formal and informal occasions. 
  • Spread collar. This collar has spread out points, but not so far as the cutaway. A spread collar is a great choice for men with wider faces who want a more formal look with their long sleeve shirt. 

Measuring for a Dress Shirt

Understanding the measurements and different fits on dress shirts won’t matter much if you don’t know your measurements. Here is what you need to know about measuring for a dress shirt. Use a soft measuring tape for all of these measurements. For some, you will find it helpful to have a friend to help. 

  • Neck. Measure from just below your Adam’s apple around your neck where the collar would typically rest. 
  • Sleeve. Measure from the center of the back of your neck, down your arm and to the hand. Stop where you want your sleeve to end, generally at the base of your palm. 
  • Shoulder. Measure from the outer end of your shoulder, over the curve of your shoulders to the other shoulder end. 
  • Chest. Measure around the thickest part of your chest, generally tight under the armpits and over the shoulder blades. 
  • Waist. Run the tape over the fullest part of your belly, generally at the belly button. It should be fairly snug but not tight. 
  • Length. Measure from the base of your neck, down your back to where you’d want the shirt to stop. 

Choose a High-Quality Shirt

The best men’s dress shirts make it easier for you to look great. Once you find your size, you’ll be able to buy dress shirts that fit you great in a variety of sizes and patterns. 

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