Comfortable formalwear -can it be done?
April 16, 2011 5:12 AM   Subscribe

Calling Men's Fashions: Is there a way to do formalwear without squeezing the neck?

My SO, who grew up poor in a third world country, has no experience whatsoever with North American ideas of formalwear. However, my brother is getting married soon, and he will have to step out of the sportswear zone and discover the land of coat-shirt & Tie. I do know from previous ventures outside his comfort range that he *hates" anything around his neck. So I'm assuming a buttoned up shirt, plus tie, will make him 100% miserable all day. Is there a way to satisfy the requirements of formal attire without him being uncomfortable? (I'm willing to sacrifice the tie if needs be, as long as he looks vaguely formal; it's not like he's in the wedding party.)

Pictures would be greatly appreciated. If it helps, here is the guy in question (average height, built at the shoulders & arms, so things that fit him tend to be tight there). Please help us find something that works for everyone!
posted by Ys to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure if you're looking for a shirt to go with a tuxedo or just a nice dress shirt, but the below should apply to both situations.

A properly sized dress / formal shirt should not constrict your neck; you should be able to slip your index finger between your neck and the collar without difficulty (but not much more than the index finger otherwise it hangs too low and looks sloppy). It should not be difficult to button the top button. It will not be uncomfortable if it's properly sized.

So then the trick is to get a properly sized one. If you have a Brooks Brothers anywhere nearby, they tend to carry more sizes in more ratios (e.g., neck circumference to arm length) than other stores, and their salescritters are usually a (slight) notch above the ones at other stores. Tell them your concerns, they should be able to find the right shirt after a couple of measurements. I have never worn these no-iron ones, but people I trust swear by their utility. To give you an example of what to look for in terms of fit and quality, see here (disclosure: I LOVE this store, shop there all the time and have mentioned it on the Green more than once but I do not have anything official to do with them whatsoever).

If you can't get to a good brick and mortar store, you can measure your man yourself and order online. Here is the first YouTube video I found showing you how to measure someone for a shirt that looked about right, but I'm sure there are others.

A good non-bespoke shirt doesn't have to cost more than $100, and you can often get a really good one for as little as $50. If your man doesn't often wear dress shirts, it's perhaps worth it to invest in one good, white one in one of the more traditional cuts for, e.g., job interviews.
posted by digitalprimate at 5:37 AM on April 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Why not wear a cravat? Silky, smart and not tight against the neck at all.
posted by the_epicurean at 5:38 AM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is the advice from Mr Porter:

There are times when going tieless will impede professional or social success so, before you dump the silk, ask yourself where the problem lies. Physical discomfort is most likely to be caused by a shirt collar that's too small. Or is it just that you don't like your ties: might a woollen tie, a bow tie or a knitted silk tie redefine the item? If you remain unconvinced, how about some kind of neckerchief or cravat? If, however, you are set on this course do think about your shirt, because an open collar needs to stand up to look right.

I personally think that a nicely tailored suit and crisp, open-necked shirt is formal enough for most occasions (you'll need to judge for yourself about this wedding) and can add an air of confidence among a crowd of traditional dressers. The trick is the get the best quality in your budget and make sure the fit is good. Nice shoes help too.
posted by londonmark at 5:41 AM on April 16, 2011

Sorry, forgot to add the link to that site:
posted by londonmark at 5:41 AM on April 16, 2011

If we're talking normal collars and long ties, and the collar fits, it shouldn't bother him at all.

Not exactly to your question, but I wear a tux in the orchestra a lot, and the old fashioned wing collar and bow tie bothers my neck a bit sometimes, even though my collar fits well. I think it's because I tend to not move my neck around as much because the stiff top edges of the collar sit a bit higher and chafe if I roll my head around (it's also true that when I'm wearing this get-up, I'm sitting long hours on stage with restricted freedom of movement, so yeah...)

Anyway, an alternative or two to the bow-tie and wing collar if a tux is involved:

- wear a standard men's dress shirt (white, non-button-down please!) and bow tie. It's good enough for Cary Grant and Daniel Craig as James Bond.
- formalwear shops have lots of alternatives now - one of our members wears a vest and a shirt with a band collar with a sort of snap-on tie (can't think of the term for the tie, but it sits down more at the collar-bone than the throat.

I would also agree that a nice shirt, pants and blazer is considered dressed up enough in MANY situations now. I'd hate to be in the necktie business these days.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:03 AM on April 16, 2011

Response by poster: Definitely not tuxedo formal.
posted by Ys at 6:31 AM on April 16, 2011

A shirt that fits (and I mean a shirt from a packet off the shelf not a fitted shirt) shouldnt be overly constricting at the neck. Has he actually tried a shirt? I think if he tried it he'd realise it's not as uncomfortable as it looks.
posted by fire&wings at 6:52 AM on April 16, 2011

Formal = white-tie tux. Semi-formal = black-tie tux. Informal = suit and tie. I know colloquially that's not what people mean by them; that's just the name for levels of dress.

What are the groom and groomsmen wearing? Normally, wedding guests should be no more than one "step" below them. Also, what's the timeframe? You should be able to get away with wearing a shirt and tie properly through the ceremony, then unbuttoning the top button, and gradually letting the tie get looser as the day/night progresses.
posted by supercres at 7:04 AM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing digitalprimate - a properly sized dress shirt, while not a pajama top, shouldn't feel uncomfortable. It would be worth it to splash out on going to an upscale shop and having the shirt and jacket custom-fitted, especially if your guy has an unusually short and/or thick neck - the guys I know who always feel strangled by their shirt collars tend to have necks on the short and thick side, making buttoned-up collars dig in and rub. Custom fitting makes the difference.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:16 AM on April 16, 2011

I agree about the sizing. I was watching Meet Joe Black recently (ugh, what I go through for my craft) and it struck me how comfy the necks of all Brad Pitt's shirts look. "Why don't my shirts fit like that?" I wondered. Then I remembered it's because I'm really thin and usually end up buying the smallest size possible to fit my torso, which means I have to cuff the sleeves and the neck pinches. What I need is to have shirts tailored so that they fit all over.
posted by hermitosis at 8:09 AM on April 16, 2011

I don't know your SO's background, but does it have to be North American formal wear? I think Eastern formal wear for men (some examples here) is much nicer looking, and miles more comfortable. Just a thought.
posted by Go Banana at 9:25 AM on April 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Something with a mandarin collar, like a nehru jacket, would work.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:45 AM on April 16, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you. This is actually news to me that collars should have space. My father is offering to take him on a shopping trip, and the suggested goal has been a shirt, tie & jacket (so he will not be completely without guidance in terms of finding something appropriate). I guess part of what I'm wondering is if there is something appropriately dressy that works without a tie. Also, thank you for that clarification on terminology: I'm sure this shopping trip will go more smoothly if I'm not confusing the assistants by using the wrong terms :)
posted by Ys at 10:03 AM on April 16, 2011

A properly-tied tie with a well-fitting collar will not be constricting at all. If it feels tight, it is a bad fit. The collar should be loose enough to easily get a finger or two inside. The tie-band rests on the outside of the collar. It should not constrict it or make it feel tighter.

I am not a regular tie wearer, but there are enough times when I have to be in a suit all day. Having a well-fitting shirt makes all the difference. This means going to a store that caries more than just S,M,L sizes and has a proper tailor. A good mens clothing store can figure this out. The prices will be quite reasonable too, only a few dollars more than those ill-fitting shirts.
posted by bonehead at 10:03 AM on April 16, 2011

Mandarin collar = no tie. It's sort of like a priest's collar without the white bit.

(Think Deepak Chopra or Dr. Evil.)
posted by Sys Rq at 10:06 AM on April 16, 2011

Response by poster: *WOW* He would look _smoking_ hot in those eastern formalwears! I wonder if we could get away with something like that...
posted by Ys at 10:09 AM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

One thing people tend not to mention is that a dress shirt with a proper collar fit when buttoned up to receive a tie may feel or look too loose and floppy when worn unbuttoned. This can be confusing to men who've built a wardrobe of business-casual and clubbing shirts that fit and hoops worn open at the collar.

A well-dressed man will often end with two different set of shirts as a result.
posted by MattD at 1:00 PM on April 16, 2011

I think you should definitely consider having him at least try on some of the Eastern attire. I frequently prefer Eastern shirts because of their comfort level on all occasions. :)
posted by patronuscharms at 1:09 PM on April 16, 2011

Have him try on a Nehru jacket. Formal but no noose involved. Also ++ to the above that a shirt and tie shouldn't bee constricting around the neck. Make sure his collar size is measured before he buys anything!
posted by dmt at 1:33 PM on April 16, 2011

Response by poster: Can anyone recommend brick-and-mortar stores that carry these Eastern styles (I walked into a few stores (B. Crofton Bull, Dillards) asking around today, and so far no one can tell me where such styles might be found. If we needed to, we could head up to the state capital (Richmond, VA) for a shopping trip. "Jhodpuri Suit" is the one I'd definitely like to see his reaction to. Where should I be looking?
posted by Ys at 3:08 PM on April 16, 2011

yea, I was going to suggest the same as Go Banana - get him to wear the formalwear from his home country - I agree that would be very dashing/smoking
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:14 PM on April 16, 2011

ooh - I particularly like the black Sherwani from Go Banana's link - that thing's like east meets matrix. very cool.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:18 PM on April 16, 2011

Googling Indian clothing stores in Richmond, here are a few options that might carry those suits:

Chahat Boutique
Richmond, Virginia 23294 - 6332 - U.S.
Office: (804) 270-4444

Dawan's Boutique
Richmond, Virginia 23224 - 3922 - U.S.
Office: (804) 232-3837

Kosala Fashions
300 E Broad St
Richmond, Virginia 23219 - 1738 - U.S.

might be worth calling and asking before you make the trip though.
posted by rmless at 3:37 PM on April 16, 2011

A properly sized dress / formal shirt should not constrict your neck... So then the trick is to get a properly sized one.

Just dropping in to n'th this. My partner hated formalwear for years until we finally took him to get properly fitted, and it turned out all his dress shirts were two sizes too small at the neck. No wonder he hated them! With proper sizing at the neck and shoulders (just about everything else about the shirt can be tailored), he's now comfortable in those shirts.

Even if you decide not to pursue a collared button-up shirt for this occasion, it might still make sense to go get him measured and fitted and get one white or pale-blue shirt he can use if another occasion arises.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:44 PM on April 16, 2011

On the traditional-western front again -
Nordstom's is another good place to look. It looks like there is one in the Short Pump Town Center mall in Richmond. The nice thing about Nordstrom is they usually have very good customer service, so you can go to the men's department and tell them you want to get fitted and find a shirt that will be very comfortable at the neck, and which will be good for a wedding or other dressy or business occasions. They'll be able to walk you through all the measurements and options, and he can try things on until you find a good fit.

Some terminology:
Don't say you want a "button down" shirt, since that can be confused with a "button down" collar -
which is a type of collar that is less formal and not what you want. (You want a dress shirt with "point" collar.) You probably want a regular/barrel cuff (which fastens with buttons that are sewn into the cuff), not a French cuff (which would require separate cufflinks, which your bf probably doesn't want to buy). A bit more on terminology of dress shirts here, also talks about fabrics.

The nice thing about getting a dress shirt that fits, and maybe one tie, blazer, slacks, shoes, is that once he has these things he can keep them in the closet and bring them out without a second thought for any occasion - wedding, funeral, christening, job interview, court date, important meeting, whatever. He never has to worry about what to wear, will always feel confident that he will fit in with the other people wearing the "uniform" of those occasions.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:05 PM on April 16, 2011

Two other styles to think about, that are not traditional-western-dress-shirts:
Guayabera shirt
Barong tagalog shirt - lots of online companies offer custom barongs, for example My (my dad got one from them several years ago for a formal occasion and was very happy with it).

Bonus, both of these styles are made for places with hot weather! So if it's a summer wedding in Richmond, he'll be in good shape.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:25 PM on April 16, 2011

Response by poster: Couldn't find an easternware suit in time. Still, he looked pretty darn good in THIS. Seemed to like it, too.
posted by Ys at 6:05 AM on April 25, 2011

Lookin' good - glad he found something he was happy with!
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:13 AM on April 25, 2011

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