Dress Shirt vs Casual Shirt | Which One Is Best?

Two factors define whether or not a gentleman has mastered the art of styling. First is the ability to discern what type of event he’s attending and second, determining what outfit to wear for which. For instance, knowing the difference between a dress shirt vs casual shirt is crucial information that every man needs to know.

Hence, we will talk about gentleman’s fashion, the difference between a button-up and button-down, the spread collar vs point collar, and more.

Dress Shirt vs Casual Shirt: Direct Comparison

Dress Shirt

  • Silhouette or Fit: More Fit
  • Fabric: Higher Thread Count
  • Length: Longer 
  • Sleeves: Long 
  • Pattern or Style: Classic

Casual Shirt

  • Silhouette or Fit: More Loose
  • Fabric: Lower Thread Count
  • Length: Shorter
  • Sleeves: Long and Short
  • Pattern or Style: Bold

We can already see that there are lots of differences between the two just by looking at the chart. However, allow us to explain each feature further and in more detail.

Breaking It Down

Before we move on to the features, though, please note a few things.

First, we don’t believe that there is a better shirt. After all, wearing a men's dress shirt, no matter how expensive it is, to an inappropriate place like the gym is a bad idea. In line with this, we're going to indicate the proper occasion where each feature works best.

Second, we also believe that men should have their wardrobes equipped with several quality pieces of each type of shirt. This is also one of the reasons we don’t believe there’s a better piece. You need both of them in your life.

Finally, we're going to provide the other pieces of clothing and footwear that go well with both shirts. With that out of the way, let us now move on to discuss the features.

Silhouette or Fit

The first feature we are going to discuss is the silhouette of both shirts or how they fit. Ever wondered how stylists can spot a dress shirt from a casual shirt a mile away, even without being able to feel its fabric or other details yet? That’s because they recognize the subtle differences between each other’s fit. 

There are three standard fits: traditional, slim, and extra slim. They apply to a lot of different types of shirts, including dress shirts and casual shirts. However, each fit is applied in slightly different measurements depending on the type of shirt.

Dress Shirt

Dress shirts are generally a lot slimmer compared to casual shirts, even in their traditional fit. It is more tightly hugging. It should just be enough for you to be able to close around your waist but not too loose like a casual shirt.

Casual Shirt

If dress shirts can make you feel slightly uncomfortable due to its hugging fit, then you’ll definitely find the casual shirt more laid back to wear. We still recommend getting a slim casual shirt for a more tapered look, though. It doesn’t mean that if you’re wearing a casual shirt, you can’t look stylish and refined anymore. Just don’t expect your casual shirt to come in the same slimmer silhouette that most dress shirts come in.

Winner: Dress Shirt

In the end, dress shirts have a better-looking silhouette. If you can’t find one that perfectly fits you, especially if your body has unique proportions, then you can always invest in having one tailor-made for you. This is, understandably, going to be more expensive.

On the other hand, if you’re not required to wear dress shirts regularly, then having a few quality pieces is certainly better than having several that all don’t fit you too well.

Men's Shirt Fabric

Let's now review thread counts. Numbers determine thread counts. Here are the usual ones:

  • 50s
  • 80s
  • 100s
  • 120s
  • 140s
  • 160s

It goes up to 200s. There are 300s, too, but they're scarce. There's a general misconception that a thread count is the number of threads per inch. For instance, a 100s thread count means that there are 100 threads per inch, but that is incorrect.

A fabric’s thread count actually refers to the size of the yarn used. Yarn comes in hanks or skeins, so a 100s thread count means that there were 100 hanks used in a pound of fabric.

You might be more familiar with checking the thread count of your bedding fabric. That’s because a higher thread usually means a softer, smoother fabric. This makes them more comfortable to sleep on regularly. Understandably, a higher thread count can also mean that they're silkier and more stylish to wear.

Dress Shirt

Our last point above is the reason dress shirts are usually made of fabric with higher thread counts. The higher the thread count, the finer the weave. It doesn’t usually follow, though, that just because a shirt has a higher thread count, it automatically means it’s a higher quality shirt.

You must still inspect how the shirt was sewn. Some manufacturers, especially lesser-known brands use the “higher thread count” label as a marketing ploy.

Casual Shirt

Since casual shirts are for more casual occasions, it is okay to go for lower thread counts. Doing so will give your casual shirt a more textured and rugged look.

It also makes casual shirts more affordable, which is okay. We recommend splurging on dress shirts instead.

Winner: Tie

A higher thread count defines the fabric used but not how a shirt was sewn. There are also times when a higher thread count is simply irrelevant. People won’t inspect your shirt in a family get together, for instance. 

It’s an entirely different matter if you’re attending a corporate event, though, or if you’re trying to inspect a client. These are occasions where your shirt and its thread count will speak volumes to the other people in attendance.

dress shirt vs casual shirt

Length

Aside from the silhouette and fabric of your shirt, you also need to determine its length. There are two lengths that you need to consider: the length of the main construction and its sleeves.

Dress Shirt

Dress shirts should be longer than your casual shirt because you need to be able to tuck them in without worrying that they might be untucked every time you sit down or reach for something. We do recommend to keep an eye on how your shirt is tucked throughout the event to make sure you always look neat and smart.

Its arms also need to extend to your wrist. It should peek out even if you put a jacket or coat on top. Accentuate your dress shirt with a pair of stylish cuff links. Cuff links are available in different materials, but we suggest getting one made of precious metals and minerals.

Casual Shirt

As for casual shirts, since they are not required to be tucked in, but instead, they are left to be tucked out most of the time, then you’d want them to be at a regular length.

To be honest, there’s no required length as it will depend on your personal preference. A good rule of thumb, though, is to make it long enough to cover your pant’s zipper. Having the zipper line showing means that your shirt is too short while having it over a couple of inches means it’s too long. Finally, it should also be enough to cover your rear.

As for its arms, it depends on how you want to wear your casual shirt. If you plan to fold it into a three-fourth length, then you don’t have to worry about the length of its sleeves anymore. On the contrary, if you plan on leaving it as it is, then it should at least meet your wrist bone.

Winner: Tied

As you have read above, no shirt’s better in length. It only depends on what look you’re going for and whether or not you're going to leave your shirt untucked.

Before we move on to the next feature, allow us to leave you just one tip related to a shirt’s length, and that is you’d want to accentuate your height.

Wearing a shirt that extends too long makes one look shorter. Hence, when in doubt as to whether or not the untucked length stunts you, it’s better to tuck it in.

Shirt Sleeve Length

We already discussed quite a bit about this feature above, but allow us to expand on it further and talk about when to go long- or short-sleeved.

Dress Shirt Sleeve Length

First of all, short-sleeved dress shirts are uncommon because they're never worn alone with short sleeves. A man's dress shirt should always be long-sleeved, and should always be partnered with a necktie.

Can you imagine wearing a necktie on a short-sleeved shirt? Of course, not! The only time to wear a short-sleeved dress shirt is if you live in a warm region and you’re going to wear a jacket or coat on top of it anyway. This will make the experience significantly more comfortable.

We won’t say that no one is going to notice that no sleeves are peeking out at the sleeves of your jacket, though. We leave risking that to you.

Casual Shirt Sleeve Lengths

Casual shirts, on the other hand, are not required to have long sleeves. Hence, they're easily available in both short- and long-sleeved variants. Don’t wear them with a tie, though, especially if they’re short-sleeved.

Winner: Casual Shirt

Casual shirts simply have more choices when it comes to different sleeves. Take your pick accordingly.

Men's Shirt Patterns or Styles

Finally, let’s talk about the pattern or style that these shirts come in. Since casual shirts come in various patterns and styles, we're going to focus more on what patterns to go for dress shirts.

Dress Shirt

Here’s a quick reference list of the different patterns to go for when getting a dress shirt for formal occasions:

  • Plain

Nothing beats a solid colored dress shirt. You won’t have to worry about the print being too loud.

The only thing that you need to think of is the color that you'll get. We suggest pastels, neutrals, achromatic (white, grey, and black), and jewel tones. Don’t forget to consider the color of your jacket and the print of your tie.

  • Stripes

There are different kinds of stripes, but pinstripes are the most common. These are thin stripes backdropped by a darker background.

Candy stripes are thicker line combinations of white and another color. Finally, there are chalk stripes. These are white stripes with a darker colored background. They differ from pinstripes on a single detail: the white lines on this pattern is thicker and bolder than the ones used on pinstripes.

There are other kinds of stripes out there, but these three are the most common choices when it comes to formal and semi-formal occasions.

  • Checkered

We believe that plaids and checks, especially wide ones, should be left for casual shirts, save for micro checks. This is a kind of checkered pattern that looks like a fine grid of vertical and horizontal white lines on a darker colored background.

Of course, you can still wear louder prints like ginghams and paisleys if you want to stand out and make a statement, but that’s entirely up to you. Doing so will also make more than a few heads turn, so don’t say we didn’t warn you. If you really want to add some life and color to your attire, then reserve the bolder patterns and colors to your tie and socks instead.

Casual Shirt

Casual events are the perfect time to experiment on your style, but just make sure that it’s not too experimental or eccentric. For bolder, yet still classic patterns, we recommend the following:

  • Paisley: Ever wondered what those highly decorated leaf-like patterns are in Robert Downey Jr.’s favorite ties? That’s paisley. 
  • Gingham: This is the pattern distinguished by intersecting wide lines of color over white. They also get darker where the lines intersect. 
  • Tartan: Combine ginghams with thinner intersecting lines of color, and you have a tartan. This is reminiscent of a more southern style. 
  • Dotted: Finally, there are dotted styles. We recommend sticking to smaller dots that are widely distanced to each other for a less “in-your-face” dotted pattern, and please, no red and white combos!

There are other patterns out there aside from the ones we mentioned above, and we’ll leave it to you to decide which one suits your preferences and personal style.  

Winner: Tied

There is no wrong pattern. Just keep in mind to use the more low-key ones for more formal events and louder ones for casual events, and you’ll be on the right track.

Also, note that certain events indicate what pattern you need to wear. Are plain white shirts required? Is there a particular color theme? These are usually indicated on the invitation you’ll receive for formal events. When in doubt, you can always ask the host.

Final Recount

That’s the face-off between the dress shirt vs casual shirt! Here’s a quick recap on how each shirt performed:

  • Dress Shirts: 4/5
  • Casual Shirts: 4/5

Pros and Cons of Each

To further learn more about dress shirts and casual shirts, you’ll find the pros and cons of each below.

PROS

CONS

Dress Shirts

  • Better silhouette
  • Smoother texture
  • Low-key style of pattern
  • Can’t be worn tucked out
  • Can’t be worn short-sleeved without a jacket
  • Slightly uncomfortable

Casual Shirts

  • Looser fit
  • More comfortable to wear
  • Available in more designs
  • Can be worn tucked out
  • Comes in short-sleeved variants
  • Informal
  • Rougher texture

Final Verdict

As we mentioned above, each shirt might have their own winning aspects such as dress shirts when it comes to fit and casual shirts when it comes to choices in sleeve lengths, but they tie in most aspects. 

In the end, what matters most is the event that you’re going to. That will define the choice that you need to make. 

Anyway, with the face-off out of the way, allow us to address other related FAQs:

What’s the Difference Between Button Up and Button Down?

Let’s define them both first. A bottom-up shirt is a piece with buttons running up the front. This is why all button-down shirts are also button-up ones. Still good so far? Great.

Button-down shirts, on the other hand, are pieces that have their collars firmly in place. Designers usually do this by attaching extra buttons on the collars to “button them down”; hence, the name.

There are button-down shirts without these extra buttons, though, but it doesn’t mean that their collars are not secured. It can take some time for your eye to nail the difference but don’t worry, you’ll get there eventually.

Spread Collar vs Point Collar—What’s the Difference?

Their main difference is distinguishable by the angle that they spread. A spread collar is wider, while a point collar has a narrower point.

Spread collars tend to be more popular if you want something to pair with a tie since the wider angle makes it easier to match while point collars are more popular when opting not to wear a tie but still look smart and refined. In the end, the better collar choice for you will depend on three factors: your tie collection (Do you have wider or narrower ties?), your tie knot style, and of course, your personal preference.

How About Suits, Footwear, and Accessories?

Two types of suit jackets go well with dress shirts: the single and double-breasted. Whatever type you choose, just remember to only button down the middle button of your single-breasted suit and don’t button down the bottom button of your double-breasted suit.

You can add a pop of color or interesting pattern when choosing your socks, but it should always match your tie. Your tie, on the other hand, should complement the color of your shirt and jacket. Here’s a pro-tip: it should be in a darker color than your dress shirt.

As for the shoes, different kinds of dress shoes will suit your formal get-up. Oxfords and derbies are our favorites in dark-colored leather. Feel free to experiment with other shoe styles for more casual events.

So, how are you looking? We hope that we were able to help you look more dapper and refined with our short article. Please feel free to explore our website for more tips and tricks on gentleman fashion. Good luck!

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