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Ermenegildo Zegna’s 100 fili shirt (left) and a store in London’s Savile Row. Photo: Getty Images
Ermenegildo Zegna’s 100 fili shirt (left) and a store in London’s Savile Row. Photo: Getty Images

The best business shirt

The formal shirt of 2016 has evolved from its conventional 20th century cousin. It is more relaxed at the collar and in fit, patterns and colours

New Delhi: Early last month, the Italian luxury fashion house Ermenegildo Zegna announced the launch of what it calls the ultimate business shirt—the 100 fili. The Zegna shirt is woven with extremely fine threads—100 for every centimetre of fabric. It has an Italian collar and a regular fit, comes in plain white and stripes and is priced at Rs33,000.

The question is: what best defines the business shirt in 2016?

Before we find an answer to that question, we need to consider that offices and work environments have changed fundamentally in the last decade or so. More jobs as well as workplaces have become casual. Friday dressing has become obsolete; smart casuals and semi-formals dominate boardrooms. Denims, cargos, T-shirts, half-sleeved shirts are more than accepted at the workplace today than they were 10-15 years ago. Or as designer Ashish N. Soni says, “The conventional meaning of the business shirt died a few years back when the banks fell and people started dressing down."

The business shirt of 2016 has evolved from its conventional 20th century cousin. It is more relaxed in terms of collar, fit, patterns and colours. Today, a business shirt is the fashion representative of the man wearing it and like other accessories is an extension of the wearer’s personality.

The June verdict from the 90th edition of Pitti Uomo, the bellwether menswear fair held in Florence, was loud and clear: “light, fresh, imaginative are the three parts of the equation for a multidimensional wardrobe of a formal man".

Menswear predictions favoured linen and cotton as well as jute and cotton in luminous weaves. Alongside pure cottons in different consistencies and three-dimensional patterns, either ton sur ton (tone on tone, or the combination of different shades of a single colour) or in contrasting colours, highlighting the weaves is the top trend of the year.

“The three essentials of a business shirt", according to designer Raghavendra Rathore, are “fabric, collar style and fit".

Early last month, the Italian luxury fashion house Ermenegildo Zegna announced the launch of what it calls the ultimate business shirt—the 100 fili.
View Full Image
Early last month, the Italian luxury fashion house Ermenegildo Zegna announced the launch of what it calls the ultimate business shirt—the 100 fili.

“And even though the classic white shirt still rules, it now comes in an array of textures and colour tweaks. But things like the stiffness of the collar, the finishing of the edge of a cuff, the finishing of buttonholes and the level of customization defines the business shirt today."

Office wear has become more critical in today’s time, says Nikhil Mehra of designer duo Shantanu and Nikhil. “It is more evolved and involved. People wear shirts that match their personality. Stripes are dead. Experiments are happening with floral patterns. Tone on tone and the use of more interesting colours is the trend," he says.

There is, however, no competitor to the classic white shirt, the most versatile when it comes to pairing, the most popular around boardrooms and the most critical part of a man’s wardrobe. It is also why the black shirt never found favour inside corporate workplaces.

“A black shirt is more appropriate for an evening out and therefore, shouldn’t be worn to a business meeting," says Soni. If you ever wear a black shirt to office, it means you are going for an evening outing."

But colours like pink, green, and lighter shades of brown are competing hard with traditional blues, greys and whites. Tech-driven versions of natural fabrics that are wrinkle-free and easy to wash will be the next things to watch out for, says Mehra. What is interesting is that there is no generic dressing anymore. People are dressing according to their body type, he says.

The moot question is whether a shirt deserves a larger share of a man’s attention compared with other things in his wardrobe? “Most men own more shirts than trousers, suits or jackets. So the shirt is an extremely important item of clothing in a man’s wardrobe," says Soni.

Mehra agrees. “It is the first layer of clothing so one has to be comfortable wearing it. It also defines the man who’s wearing it," he says. “Shirts form the basis of one’s wardrobe. Everything else revolves around it."

The Zegna shirt is woven with extremely fine threads—100 for every centimetre of fabric
View Full Image
The Zegna shirt is woven with extremely fine threads—100 for every centimetre of fabric

For example, designers say, if one is wearing a shirt with a classic split collar, a normal tie with the Windsor knot will go best with it. The jacket to wear with it will not be too snug, but rather medium-fit. If the shirt is well fitted, the collar must be proportionate to the size of the neck, so it will be a little smaller than the classic collar. The tie and jacket, accordingly will have to be slimmer. No shoulder pads in the jacket. So it all revolves around the shirt and hence the attention it gets. There are several mass retail brands that manufacture good business shirts. “Allen Solly, Van Heusen, Louis Philippe—all make good shirts," according to Soni. “Then there are brands such as Thomas Pink, Brooks Brothers and T.M. Lewin, if we talk high street."

“If one were to go beyond that and step into Jermyn Street (London), there would be a selection of super shirt brands varying from Hilditch and Key, Harvie and Hudson, Charles Tyrwhitt, Turnbull and Asser and then it will depend on personal taste and service that one gets," he says. That’s crucial.

Many mass retail brands start their business shirts in the price band of Rs1,000-1,500, “but if one wants to invest in the true sense of the word, one must look at a price range of Rs4,000-plus," says Rathore. “If you buy a business shirt priced at less than Rs2,500, it will not last beyond six-eight months."

Business shirts from brands such as Hilditch and Key and Thomas Pink start at about £100. And if one wants to go bespoke, a shirt could easily cost around $500 and more.

Customization is one of the most important aspects of a wardrobe. And people who like their shirts fine and can afford one, look for bespoke shirt makers in London or Milan, says Mehra. “H&M, Pink, Zara, among others, are doing great shirts but people who know their shirts continue to go to Savile Row. People notice craftsmanship, the stories behind the brand."

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