Long sleeve shirts for a small guy
July 14, 2008 4:44 PM   Subscribe

Where can I find long sleeve, casual, button-down dress shirts for a small guy? Lot's more information inside.

I've been looking for some new clothing recently and it's not going very well. I like how I look in long sleeve dressy-ish shirts. The problem is that I'm a fairly small guy. I'm around 5'6" and weigh between 120 and 130 pounds.

All of the size 'small' dress shirts I try on in stores are definitely too big; the sleeves go to my knuckles and the rest of the shirt falls partway down my thighs. I've resorted to using dress shirts from the boys' section for work. The ones I wear are about a size 18 in boys'. The sleeves are slightly too short but I deal with it. Unfortunately they usually only come in black, white, or some ridiculous striped pattern that's not really my thing. Help!

I'd like to find shirts that fit me, aren't just black or white, and would look good untucked with jeans. I'm not looking for really flashy or gaudy patterns; I like muted colors and more subtle patterns. I know I'll probably have to shop online to find what I need and that's fine with me.

A bit more background: I'm a fairly experienced swing and blues dancer and have started tango recently. That means that I usually roll up my sleeves to around the elbows pretty often. That also means they get sweaty and need to be able to be washed in a regular washer (I can't afford constant dry cleaning). As an aside, if anyone has tips for rolling up sleeves so they 1. stay rolled up and 2. don't look absurd, they'd be appreciated too!

I know you might be thinking "Why bother with long sleeves rolled up? Just get short sleeves!" I have tattoos that sometimes need to be covered (for work) so short sleeve shirts are not really an option.

One thing I've considered is tailoring. There are a bunch of tailoring places in my neighborhood; if I bought shirts that were too big for me and brought them there could they tailor them to fit me, or do most tailoring places only deal with suits and the like? If so, how big should I buy so that they have enough to work with? I'm pretty clueless when it comes to that kind of thing.

As for price range, now that I have a full time job I'm more flexible than I was in college, but keeping it under $40 would be wonderful. Less is even better.

Thanks in advance for any help you can give me! If there's anything I left out just ask and I'll reply as soon as I can.
posted by sjl7678 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Don't shop for "small," shop for a particular neck size and sleeve length. If you don't know your size, go to a department store or other finer mens clothier and have them measure you. After you know your size, you can either shop locally (where are you?) or shop online.
posted by Robert Angelo at 4:50 PM on July 14, 2008

Response by poster: I'm in Rochester, NY.

Do I just go to somewhere like Sears and ask to be measured?
posted by sjl7678 at 4:53 PM on July 14, 2008

take the train down to nyc and go to h&m or uniqlo, they have a good selection of dress shirts. pick ones that fit your chest and shoulders and are a little bit long in the sleeves for you, then take them to your local tailors to be fitted. tailors have seen it all, they will know exactly what to do for you and how much it will cost.
posted by lia at 5:33 PM on July 14, 2008

You need to get custom-made shirts. Brooks will do it for you. If you are ever in Manhattan, the flagship store has something called a "digital tailor" that measures you to within a centimeter. But they also do it the old fashioned way in their other stores.
posted by Zambrano at 5:36 PM on July 14, 2008

Any store that sells shirts in exact measurements (ie. numbers instead of S, M, L, XL) will have someone with a tape measure to measure you. I haven't been to Sears in ages but if the online store is any indication, then they should have these shirts. Ask to try "fitted shirts" first which will be less box-shaped and more contoured to your body. Don't be afraid to try shirts in every brand. Every designer uses a slightly different shape for their shirts so try them all on until you find one that fits just right - don't settle.

A tailor can make some adjustments to reduce material in certain areas, mostly by taking in material at the sleeve circumference and length, under the arms, and behind the waist. They cannot enlarge any areas. However, the original shirt has to be the right fit at the neck, shoulders, and upper back. So make sure any shirt you try on fits in those 3 areas before considering whether it can be tailored.

At 5'6" and 120-130lbs, you should be able to find shirts that will fit you without significant alteration in NYC. Seek out European brands and clothing stores. Their dress shirts are usually slimmer and run smaller than American labels.

If you find that you still can't find the perfect shirt, I can link you to a custom tailor that will make shirts for about $80. But honestly, I don't think your proportions require that.
posted by junesix at 5:40 PM on July 14, 2008

2nding the suggestion for H&M...all my slim male friends love their dress shirts. You are an unfortunate victim of the size shift in a world that is still obsessed with the gangsta baggy clothing look; that style is fading away (yay!) so it should be easier to find well-fitting shirts, but the size shift remains. I think that in general, European brands (or Japanese, in the case of Uniqlo) tend to have more real sizes and have better tailoring for smaller sizes.
posted by kenzi23 at 5:42 PM on July 14, 2008

Tailoring's an option, but off the rack you'd be happier in European shirts - agnes b. in particular are beautifully made and cut small (dammit - I love them but I'm 6'3" and rangy). They're out of your price range new but if you are in NYC at some point you might find a whole wardrobe's worth at a consignment store such as Ina Men on Mott St, or at Century 21.

By "button-down" do you mean the collar points button down? These are fine for work but less stylish than point collars for dancing or dating.

As for rolling up sleeves: don't roll from the cuff. Invert the whole lower sleeve up over your upper arm, then roll the thin part up in 2" turns until it half-covers the cuff. Looks cooler - the cuff details stay visible - and stays put better.
posted by nicwolff at 5:43 PM on July 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Gap carries XS shirts, and pants down to 28W/28L. Your options will be widest online rather than in-store.
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 7:40 PM on July 14, 2008

My brother-in-law is about your size and finds LOTS to wear at Hollister and Abercrombie, where the sizes are created much smaller than the average bear. You'll find lots of XS and S there.
posted by messylissa at 8:18 PM on July 14, 2008

As for rolling up sleeves: don't roll from the cuff. Invert the whole lower sleeve up over your upper arm, then roll the thin part up in 2" turns until it half-covers the cuff. Looks cooler - the cuff details stay visible - and stays put better.

I'm having trouble envisioning this. My rolling advice is to fold, not roll. Fold the cuff back where it meets the sleeve, and make it nice and flat against the sleeve. Fold back again the width of the cuff, making sure to properly adjust and flatten the fiddly bits where the sleeve splits (if you know what I mean). One more fold gets you above the elbow. This is easier to do before you put the shirt on, if you know in advance you are going for the above-the-elbow thing.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:41 PM on July 14, 2008

What I mean Rock Steady is: make one giant "roll" at the beginning that brings the cuff up to where you want it to be when you're done (say, just above the elbow), then roll (or repeatedly "fold" as you'd say) the now-inverted sleeve up until it partially covers the cuff.
posted by nicwolff at 9:16 PM on July 14, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the comment so far! A couple of responses:

First, New York City is six hours away form Rochester by car and god only knows how many by bus or train, so popping down there to shop every once in a while isn't really an option. I'll keep it in mind if I'm ever there though.

Tailoring sounds like my best bet since we don't have a lot of the fancy stores around here, but I'll shop around at some places online too. Thanks!
posted by sjl7678 at 9:28 PM on July 14, 2008

You would never wear a tie with a shirt that was sized Sm-M-L-XL. There is no doubt that in Rochester, there are sized shirts available. They are sized by neck and sleeve size. Different brands are slimmer or looser, but you should be able to find something the right neck and sleeve size. Seriously: go to any men's clothing store. There must be local businessmen, they have to shop somewhere.

And if you want a tailor to short your sleeves for you, they will, and it should cost you around $10-15. But it's better to get something that fits you, because the proportions can be thrown off when shortening sleeves a lot.
posted by YoungAmerican at 9:54 PM on July 14, 2008

Get the neck size right and the sleeve length right, and have a tailor take it in. Can't speak for Rochester specifically, but I've found that the typical older-Chinese-couple-owned drycleaners are excellent tailors. And certainly charge a reasonable price for routine alterations, unlike the fancy-pants tailors.

Zappos may be a good option for online shopping, since they pay for shipping both ways (order stuff, try on, ship back if you hate the way it fits.)
posted by desuetude at 10:03 PM on July 14, 2008

Go custom! Jantzen Tailor! My boyfriend is very similar in size to you, and always had trouble finding shirts that fit well in stores, so he's pretty much just started ordering all his shirts from them. It sometimes takes a long time to get the shirts made, but the quality is really great, you have absolute control over fit, and they are of comparable price to off the rack. (We're in Canada, and we've always paid less than C$50, which is at this point about US$49).
posted by SoftRain at 10:36 PM on July 14, 2008

H&M has what you're looking for. As a European brand, their clothes are better tailored for slim people than typical American-sizing- and their shirts are of the appropriate length for me at 5'7" that I can wear untucked without looking ridiculously long. According to their website, they do in fact have an outpost in Rochester.

(If you want to spend more money than you care to think about on clothes, look at the Theory brand. Their stuff is very nice and well-tailored, but very expensive.)
posted by andrewraff at 7:11 AM on July 15, 2008

To repeat what some others have said, an actual dress shirt is defined by having two measurements: neck circumference and arm length. Both are in inches.

So yes, go to any department store (seriously, any department store -- sears or nicer), and ask for the dress shirts. If they send to you a rack of clothes sold in s/m/l, ask again, this time for the suits, and look for the nearest shirts on sale. Those will be your dress shirts. Tell a clerk you would like to be sized for a dress shirt, and they will find someone with a tape measurement. In 30 seconds you will have your dress shirt size.

To me, you are not really a "fairly small guy" -- I am a small (but stocky) guy, at 5'3". And any shirt with a 32" inch sleeve (that is usually the shortest sleeve length on sale) and a 16 1/2' neck size will fit me. A custom-made shirt would have a shorter sleeve length, but by keeping the cuffs buttoned, the sleeves don't pass over my wrist. I am okay with the slight puffiness this causes to the sleeves. Or I just fold up my sleeves. At 5'6", you are closer to average height than I, and you probably wouldn't even notice that size 32 sleeves need tailoring.

Forget all this talk about getting custom made shirts, or driving six hours to the biggest city in America to buy clothes for your job. Every department store in America sells dress shirts arranged by neck size and sleeve length. Millions of men who wear shirts with ties for work, church, or funerals have bought off-the-rack "dress shirts" in department stores this way. If you've never noticed real dress shirts in a department store, it's just because you've never had the occasion to look.
posted by hhc5 at 9:05 AM on July 15, 2008

For casual dress shirts tailored for smaller guys, also check Sisley, French Connection and Armani Exchange.
posted by xo at 9:14 AM on July 15, 2008

Adrian Jules is a custom shirt/suit shop located in Rochester NY, they have a store off of Monroe ave in the Brighton/Pittsford area. Its right across the street from Mann's jewelers. I haven't ever purchased anything there, and it very well might be well above your 40 dollar limit, but its possibly worth taking a look.
posted by HoldFast at 3:39 PM on July 15, 2008

H&M smalls will fit you and XS modern fit mx shirts from Express (but they only carry XS in black, gray, and white).
posted by Stynxno at 7:31 PM on July 16, 2008

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