How to Assess the Quality of a Shirt, Part 2

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In the previous posting on this topic, I explained that most ways to assess the quality of a dress shirt revolve around working out how many time-consuming details have been included. Each detail adds a few more precious seconds to the manufacturing time; fewer shirts can be made every day, and each therefore costs a little bit more to make.

The first to consider was whether the side seam has two lines of stitching or one – one line taking twice as long as the sewing machine has to double-back over the same place.

The second detail to watch out for is the direction of the buttonhole on the sleeve’s placket. Most shirts will have a button here connecting up the open sleeve a second time, below the cuff and higher up the arm. A buttonhole that is perpendicular to the arm, across the sleeve, is harder to do as the button has to be in precisely the right place. However, if the buttonhole is parallel to the sleeve, there is much more room for error in the positioning of the button – its centre can be anywhere along the length of the hole.

As with the lines of stitching on the side seam, the direction of the buttonhole here shows that a more time-consuming method has been used. The shirt is therefore more expensive to make and will probably cost you more. But I have yet to hear a reason why a horizontal buttonhole on the placket is actually better.

It is harder, sure, but what practical purpose does it serve? Perhaps it prevents the button from sliding up and down, but only by a matter of millimetres. At least the single-stitched seam has a benefit in being more elegant – if not, as explained in my last post, more reliable. The horizontal buttonhole seems to have little practical purpose.

Fortunately, many other signs of quality do have a purpose. Hand-sewn buttonholes, for example, are revealed by the irregularities of stitching around the hole and the different finishes on either side of the shirt. Although less uniform, hand-sewn holes will be more reliable and stronger (another tell-tale sign is three-hole buttons – which cannot be sewn on by machine).

Other things to watch out for are:
- The fineness of stitching on the collar and cuffs. It should be nearly invisible.
- Whether the stripes on a shirt match exactly where the yoke meets the sleeve, and on either side of the cuff.
- Any other details that take extra effort. Turnbull & Asser and Thomas Pink shirts, for example, have a gusset at the bottom of the side seam. Kilgour and Charvet shirts have a squared-off tail with a vent on either side. The first is intended to strengthen that join; the second to prevent bunching under the trouser. Both take more time.


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Simon Crompton is a journalist and a style enthusiast living in London, who blogs at permanentstyle.blogspot.com. He has too many suits.