A man is judged on many levels including how he wears his suit and more importantly his shirt collar. Why a shirt collar and not a shirt? The collar is a good indicator of shirt’s quality and the state of the wearer’s style priorities.
An impressionable man with less than healthy cash flow will often be betrayed by the state of his shirt’s collar.
A worn-out shirt is a sign of one of two things, severe financial imbalance occasioned by misplaced priorities or simply a case of poor fashion choices. If you cannot afford a good quality dress shirt, you would rather wear a t-shirt, because you will be forgiven for looking like a man with no fashion sense.
Kenyans are typically conservative dressers and bright-coloured ties tend to boost their look. But don’t shy away from having as many coloured shirts as you like. As a rule of thumb, always make your shirt choice based on your daily chores. Wear darker colours if you work in the field with dusty conditions. Also avoid double cuffs if you work with your hands.
Selecting a formal shirt requires many considerations beyond colour. I would summarise them as FCCF; fit, cuff, collar and fabric.
You can opt for a classic, slim fit, super slim fit or extra slim fit. Gentlemen, do not to force yourself into a slim fit if you are not slim. Settle for a regular or classic cut. Always dress for your body type. If you are short and stumpy, with a wider middle section, the super slim fit will leave you looking like a man in denial trying to fit into the six-pack club.
On the other hand, if you are a senior citizen with a respectable 'beer pot' indicating the absence of any relationship with the gym, then settle for the classic cut with anti-crease (non-iron) fabric.
If on the other hand, if you have abs, biceps and a six-pack (most single men tend to have all these) then enjoy this club while it lasts and dress in super slim fit shirts with stretch fabric. You will get lots of attention that you crave and a little that you would rather not.
According to Cardone Luigi who owns an Italian bespoke shirt brand, Cardone 1956, the most popular business shirts are the classic fits in either white, blue or stripped.
Mr Luigi whose shop is frequented by buyers from Africa adds that besides having a good shirt, an executive should opt for one made from poplin.
''It's best to settle for shirts made from poplin (broadcloth) fabric because it is breathable, smooth and lustrous with a nice subtle sheen. It’s a high quality fabric, very easy to iron and it will remain uncreased even in a suitcase for those who travel frequently,'' he said in an interview with BDLife.
Collars and cuffs
The collar is the most important part of your shirt, followed by the cuffs and both must remain in good condition.
If you opt for a bespoke shirt you have the option to have the collars and cuffs match.
Mr Luigi says that a businessman looks more presentable with a high-collar shirt with a French cut.
There are several collar types but eight main dress shirt collars will show up for you depending on how you like to wear your tie. Here is how to identify them:
This is the most common and traditional collar. It is formal and goes with a tie. It was created for the modern but conservative man.
It works well with skinny ties and it can accommodate most knots. You can have it with a pin for a more sophisticated and classic look. It works well with Eldredge or the Trinity tie knots.
This is similar to the pointed collar but comes with buttons to keep it down. It is more casual but can be worn with a tie by conservative old-school folk and the horse-riding gentlemen at the polo club.
This is an iconic collar and it must be worn with a tie. It is elegant and refined.
This modern collar is popular with young executives and requires a tie to look right. Try to stick to a regular knot like the Windsor.
Extreme cut away (wide spread)
This is a daring collar and must be worn with a tie. Again favoured by the young executives in middle management looking to impress the boss, it should be worn with a wide knot.
This is my favourite because it is rare, trendy and informal. It can be worn with a pin and a tie for the distinguished look.
This is also called the stand, band or Indian collar. It is straight with no flap. It is considered informal in Europe but is the official standard in some coastal regions and many Asian countries.
It makes a trendy casual shirt that can be worn with blazers.
This collar is informal and comes with a short-sleeved shirt and must only be worn on casual Fridays or the weekend. It works well for the fit athletic man with chest hair and some biceps.
There are three main cuff styles. The turnback (James Bond), button (barrel) cuff and French (double) cuff. If you meet a man with the turn cuff, make way, he knows his shirts. It has the elegance of the French cuff without the need for links.
The button cuff is your normal style with one two or three buttons. The French cuff is your classic formal shirt that requires the cuff links that offer you the opportunity to show off.
You could avoid metallic silver, gold or platinum cuffs and simple have silk knot cufflinks also referred to as monkey fists or turks head.
If you are ordering a made-to-measure or bespoke shirt opt for rounded, angled or squared off cuffs just to give your style some edge.
Whatever your collar or colour choice, ensure you have a several white shirts as they project cleanliness and purity of thought. You can vary the style and button colours to add some flair.
If you love Italian shirts, it takes between three to four days to order at an average shipping cost of Sh3,500. For a hand-made shirt, Mr Luigi says it may take extra days depending on the fabric picked and the complexity of shirt’s details.
And how much should you spend on a good shirt? For instance, expect to pay between Sh16,000 and Sh30,000 for a premium shirt from Cardone 1956 or Eton and anything from Sh65,000 for a bespoke shirt from Brioni with no upward limit towards the hundreds of thousands of shillings for a Stefano Ricci.
There are entry-level shirts from Hawes & Curtis or Charles Tyrwhitt which are cheaper and range from Sh3,000 to Sh7,000.
Locally, I buy ready-to-wear shirts from Neoman Styles. For made-to-measure, I go to Zeddie Loky’s of Narok NYC.
When I travel, I often explore either British, Italian or Swedish shirt designers. From the UK, it will either be Charles Tyrwhitt, Hawes & Curtis or Hilditch & Key. From Italy, I recommend you go for bespoke shirts.
There are as many luxury shirt designers as there are premium brands, most of them are good, so be patient and do your research to find what perfectly fits.
I ask Mr Luigi whose customers mostly buy white oxford or white poplin shirts, how many shirts a business executive should have and what colours?
''Have a large range of choices, an executive should be seen in white, light blue and stripped shirts. These are always the best choice,'' he said.
Mr Mwai is luxury brand consultant