The Myth of The Slim Fit Shirt

At 5’ 8”and 135 lbs I think that I would qualify as candidate for slim fit shirts, but they are not for me. In fact, I would argue that slim fit shirts are flattering on a very small percentage of the population especially those that are interested in classic style. Instead of arguing point for point I want to illustrate my argument using pictures and a Brooks Brothers traditional fit shirt.

Slim Fit me                                  I have a fairly slim build. Please forgive the appearance of an undershirt.

The Brooks Brothers traditional fit is the roomiest fit that they offer. This traditional fit is too billowy for my own taste as I prefer the regular fit, but I can still manage to make it work and look nice. The trick is all in the tuck.

Brooks Brothers Traditional Fit                                A traditional fit Brooks Brothers shirt fits like a tent like on me.
Extra MaterialMy tucking technique is one of the many versions or variations of the military tuck. First, you tuck the shirt all of the way in. The second step is to grab the excess fabric on the both the left and right side. Then you pull the excess material from each side toward the back of the pant. I tend to use my thumbs when I do this. Finally,  you tuck and stuff the excess material in the rear of the trousers.  This excess material will live in the back of the shirt and trouser area. This is probably the biggest downside to wearing a fuller body shirt, but I think that it far outweighs the negatives of a slim fit shirt.

Shirt Tucked in

                                  With the shirt tucked in I do not think that it looks too billowy at all’.Materila in back of Shirt                              However, there is a build up  of material in the back of the shirt

Why don’t I like slim fit shirts? My biggest issue with them is that they are confining. I feel like I can’t move freely without untucking my shirt. To me this says it all. Trad style is about utility and comfort. A slim fit shirt is not. Lastly they seem to expose my physical build which again I find off putting. I know that I am fit and I do not think that my colleagues and clients need to be made aware of this.

To be fair I am not saying that no one should wear slim fit shirts, but due to their prevalence in today’s market I think that it is important to evaluate if they are right for you. If you are rail thin a slim fit shirt may fit you like a regular fit shirt fits me and that is great. If you spend a lot of time in the gym and you want this to be apparent in your business clothing then maybe they are for you as well, but you are probably reading the wrong blog.  As you can see from this post a Brooks Brothers traditional fit shirt is not optimal for me either, but I do wear the shirt shown with a blazer or sport coat with no problem. The bottom line is don’t let the proliferation of the slim fit shirt infiltrate your closet unless it really belongs there.

oxford cloth button down
Jerrod Swanton is a simple man interested in simple, classic, and traditional style.

36 Comments on "The Myth of The Slim Fit Shirt"

  1. Erik says:

    I’m inclined to agree, but while admitting many of my shirts are slim-fit or MTM.

    My excuse being a gangly 6′ at 160lb frame that is mismatched with a fat-man’s 16.5 neck. I think my neck measures right at 16″, but for comfort (especially in oxford, which loves to shrink) I have to go with 16.5. As a result, a standard shirt looks like I’m wearing a cult robe. A slim fit is still roomy, but less so.

    But, I’ve also discovered that standard fit shirts don’t looks as billowy with the appropriate tuck. I find the key are standard rise trousers. Pants that sit at the waist control shirts better than those that are low on the hips. Low-rise pants work better with slim shirts as they just “muffin-top” standard fits. Also, low-rise look silly and I mock them incessantly on my blog. I’m an adult.

    My next oxford experiment will be Kamakura, which only offers my size in the “Tokyo Standard” which is probably still slimmer than most standards. Since, with the exception of you and I, we’re pretty fat in the US compared to Japan.
    And most of the world.

  2. Craig says:

    I feel the same on the slim cut. Not my fit. In fact I have always lived in the Brooks Brothers red label traditional cut shirt. Plus, I attended a military academy and know the best feel of this shirt is with the military tuck. Not to mention the appearance of the cut at the waist once fully dressed.
    I somewhat question the over whelming leap to the slim cut. I think it appeals to a fickle age group that will turn in a different direction overnight but companies like B2 are willing to bet on it and leave a lot of the people who built the brand out in the cold. Anyway, my two cents, not much.

  3. Herr Doktor says:

    I too can’t get used to the idea of a slim fit shirt. To be honest I’m 6′ 3″ and 210, so there is little I can to to appear smaller. But here’s my take on slim fit: It ‘s a way for manufacturers to use less material and charge as much or more for a shirt. I think few people look good in them. I like the tucking technique; good show!

  4. AJC says:

    I’m one of those who can’t help but look ridiculous in trad fit, or even reg fit. The BB “slim” fit isn’t very slim at all; at least on my frame, it still provides plenty of room, just without the excess fabric around the waist. Great post!

  5. Oneil says:

    You look ridiculous. Like you’ ve got a sail tucked into your regular fit dockers.

    • rolo says:

      xD…………I agree if you dont know, you dont know. Slim shirt are not confining they are just cut without any extra fabric hanging from the arms or the torso. Even full body men or chunky can wear slim fit shirts as long as they are not tight. People like this guy believe that slim shirt are super tight like the shirts Travolta wore in Saturday N. Live. The termed tailored is more indicative than slim fit. Then again to each its own…….

  6. Tim says:

    I had the same problem before I moved to NYC (here it’s easy to find *actual* slim fit shirts). I used to get every one of my dress shirts tailored.

    Here’s the best priced slim fit shirt that I know of (definitely go with the slim fit ones):

    I get them dry-cleaned and they’ve lasted for many years. I don’t know how they make them so much less expensive than other brands.

  7. David says:

    I got 2 inches and 30 pounds on you, but BB slim-fit is fine on me. What I happen to like is their normal collar and cuffs. Most manufacturers scale down their collars and cuffs on slim fit shirts, which looks anemic.

    I don’t have a mobility problem in a BB slim fit, but that’s due to sleeve length more than torso width. A slightly longer sleeve, along with a properly fitted cuff, allows better mobility than a larger torso. Simply, more fabric in the sleeve vs. the torso.

  8. Tucker says:

    I can’t imagine that the slim fit is in any way restrictive on you. I have a 10 inch drop and still find the slim fit to billow quite a bit at the waist. I gave up on the regular fit many years ago. To each his own, though.

  9. Dan says:

    My biggest issue with roomy shirts is that all the hard work I put in to make it look neat is for naught after walking around or sitting down. I look like I’ve got a mushroom growing ’round my middle after leaning forward.

    If I wore traditional or regular fit, I’d consider getting some shirt garters, because retucking ruins whatever comfort I would ordinarily gain.

  10. oxford cloth button down says:

    Interesting to read the different opinions. Where the slim shirt bothered me most was at the side seam. For some reason the shirt always seems to come untucked a little bit, Maybe it was the shoulders? All I know is that I choose non-slim fit . I am glad to hear that they have served so many of you well!

  11. Philly Trad says:

    Being fit is classy.
    Showing off one’s physique with a narcissistic slim-fit shirt is déclassé.

  12. Lafcadio says:

    Ivy League style is all about tradition.

  13. Great article. The slim fit craze is just a craze. These shirts tend to be poorly made and there is no room to move. Like yourself, I have a similar build. Traditional BB shirts made in the States are great. For lovers of the oxford button down, you can do no better than to check out Mercer & Sons. The shirts are clearly first drawer for any lover of the traditional Ivy style. Always classy.

  14. hardline_42 says:

    This was a great post, Jarrod. BB slim has been my go-to in the past but I think I’ll try the regular fit for the next batch. The pictures really did it. You don’t look ridiculous, but you don’t look like your on the ragged edge of current fashion either. You look 100% “appropriate,” and that’s the goal.

    To the poster above who said you look like you’re wearing a sail:
    Are you old enough to remember wide leg pants? JNCO jeans, and the like? How about a decade or so earlier than that and Z. Cavariccis? Back then, I remember telling people who wore 501’s that their legs looked like toothpicks in their “tight” pants. I feel stupid now, defending and advocating a silly youth-oriented fashion trend, but I was a snot-nosed kid back then.
    The new “slim everything” is just the pendulum swinging back in the other direction. In ten years, some other snot-nosed kid will look at pictures of today’s slim army and talk about how everyone looked like overstuffed sausages in flood pants.

  15. Moss says:

    Great article. I am of a similar build and age and I far prefer the BB Regular Fit and the J Press original shirt. I too feel that the BB Traditional fit is grossly oversized but absolutely manageable with a proper tuck and trousers with a longer rise that rest at the navel. BB slim fits are an odd cut and certainly less comfortable than those listed above.

  16. Jeff says:

    I, too, feel many traditional fit shirts are billowy and feel huge on me, however, i am not quite as fit as yourself. I’m 5’5″ with a 17.5″ neck, 32″ arms and a 37″ waist.That being said, I’ve employed a similar tuck style as the one you’ve illustrated with similar results. The shirt looks nice, I enjoy freedom of movement, and I can also fit an undershirt without bind. I personally feel slim-fits and other similar styles are directed toward a much younger crowd, however, I also believe any opportunity a man chooses fine button shirts over t-shirts and other slouch-wear is a stylish victory. Dressing down has become too much a norm.

  17. Ernest says:

    Slim fit is just a label. I know from experience that for a shirt to fit me the pit-to-pit measure must be between 21.5 and 22.5 inches. Less than that is constricting, more is too roomy. That is all I have to know when I buy a shirt. Granted, with the military tuck you can make it look a bit less bad, but it doesn’t change the fact that the shirt is ill-fitting. Just my opinion 🙂

  18. oxford cloth button down says:

    Thanks for all the comments! I wanted to clarify. In the post above I said, “This traditional fit is too billowy for my own taste as I prefer the regular fit, but I can still manage to make it work and look nice. The trick is all in the tuck” and “As you can see from this post a Brooks Brothers traditional fit shirt is not optimal for me either, but I do wear the shirt shown with a blazer or sport coat with no problem.”

    However, I actually rarely wear BB OCBDs as I have a ton of older LE Original Oxfords in regular fit that I really like.

  19. Eric says:

    Nice post! Good to see someone stand up for the traditional fitting shirts. I fear too many people have bought the slim fit mistake hook line and sinker.

  20. Eddy Clarkson says:

    Traditional is a subjective reference. I feel that the style of dress you exhibit on your site (which I really enjoy btw) harkens back to the mid sixties. Blue ocbd (Gant-not BB), khakis,Weejuns and London Fog were the uniform for mainstream males in the south during this remarkable period. BB was more localized in this pre-computer age. There were far fewer overweight people during this time and the clothes were reflected that. The over sized shirts actually showed up later as the population fattened. I still have several shirts from this period and they are cut about like what is sold now as slim or tailored fit. Gant, Sero and Hathaway were the main players in that time. Gant had a mystique never matched by the others.

    • transposition says:

      Hear, hear!

      I too think that the “traditional fit” may be a misnomer, as I have run across older & deadstock shirts that are quite slim by today’s standards, but were “regular” at that time.

  21. Dan says:

    I don’t think this depends so much on your height and weight as it does your height, weight, neck, sleeve and waist size. Brooks Extra Slim looks as billowy as that shirt does on you. With a 16.5-17 neck and 36 sleeves but being 6’0 and a 32 waist, slim fit shirts are a godsend. If you have a thick neck and long arms, they automatically think you are offensive lineman or something.

    To Erik, definitely try Kamakura. I have two of them because they are the closest I’ve found to something that fits me right. Unfortunately they aren’t perfect and are a lot slimmer in the chest than at the waist and the sleeve lengths are kind of weird.

  22. Amin says:

    I’m into slim fitted shirts. Cut to the bone, preferably. If I feel like relaxing I just undo all the buttons, sometimes revealing the ash grey shirt I’m wearing under – I don’t care. I’m also not fond of the notion some have of regular fits being ‘better’ simply because it’s more traditional.

    Most good things have a clear reason why they were done that way. For example: Televisions are widescreen instead of square, because it’s easier on the eyes (our eyes sit next to each other, so our view is also widescreen). In the same way, our bodies are V-shaped, so it’s only natural that the curves of the shirt should follow the curves of the male body.

    The first televisions were square, and so were the first Oxfords. It’s evolving to something better by reason.

  23. Jovan says:

    I’m mostly amazed at how many of these comments are so zealously black and white — nothing in between. In my opinion, it’s impractical and silly looking to wear a woven shirt that’s cut like a Ralph Lauren model appears to be wearing, which are in reality heavily pinned in back. I say woven, because close-fitting knit shirts are still comfortable to wear, as seen with Jerrod’s undershirt. My polos fit that way. That said, I also think thin or athletic people wearing full cut shirts look silly. It’s a matter of proportion. The fullest cut I’ll wear is a BB Regular Fit, which honestly would look better on our host here. No offence, Jerrod. I’m fond of Ledbury Slim Fit because they are trim (which best describes my style overall) yet not tight and still very comfortable to wear. Personally, I also don’t like the feeling having all that fabric bunched up at the small of my back. In fact, during the summer, I find it to be hotter to wear with a jacket than with a trim fitting shirt (never seen the heat difference sans jacket) and it tends to create unsightly bulges on lightweight jackets such as madras or linen.

    As far as showing off one’s physique being declasse, that’s just silly. Should women not wear things that fit a nice body? Why the double standard? Now, I’m not saying those who are best served by a traditional fit shouldn’t wear them, but grading morality on a scale of how much fabric one’s clothing has is just ridiculous.

  24. Eric says:

    You probably need to order one size smaller to begin with. Ideally you shouldn’t have too much material around the waist. I am 5’10” and 185 lbs, I typically wear 15.5/16, or regular M size/slim fit L size.

  25. Rob says:

    That is an incredibly unsophisticated look. Breaks virtually every aesthetic principle in the name of some strange notion of modesty (maybe personal insecurity). Adults are supposed to demonstrate intelligence in their fashion and even some sort of indication of sexual maturity. The popularity of the slim fit shirt is basically bringing what was once only attainable to those who could afford to have their clothes custom tailored to look decent to the general population, who once had to settle for the potato sack look you are advocating. You should wear clothes that fit your body type. You look like a dork still being dressed by his mother.

    • P Hudson says:

      “The popularity of the slim fit shirt is basically bringing what was once only attainable to those who could afford to have their clothes custom tailored to look decent to the general population, who once had to settle for the potato sack look you are advocating.”

      While this may be true at some level, it isn’t the reason those shirts are being marketed. They are selling because that is where fashion has gone. It wasn’t that long ago that Ralph Lauren still marketed “The Big Shirt”, with shoulders about an inch past the wearers actual shoulders. The modernist revival with slim silhouettes, narrow ties, pleatless pants, etc. is in vogue, but this too shall pass. And when it does, some of us will still be wearing our traditional but suddenly unfashionable clothes.

  26. oxford cloth button down says:

    A few key passages that may have been overlooked by commenters:

    1. To be fair I am not saying that no one should wear slim fit shirts, but due to their prevalence in today’s market I think that it is important to evaluate if they are right for you.

    2. As you can see from this post a Brooks Brothers traditional fit shirt is not optimal for me either

  27. John says:

    You seem to have a regular build rather than slim. Slim fit is more optimal for a lot of people. Of course, many people are in between builds, making it harder to get optimal fit.

  28. Chris Baker says:

    It’s hard to tell from the photos, but perhaps you are buying shirts too big to start with. One photo it seems that the shoulder seem is 2-3 inches outside where your shoulder is.
    I don’t think that there is anything narcissistic about wearing clothes that fit properly. If it shows off your trim physique, then that’s just because it fits properly. You are a fit guy, wearing a properly fitted shirt, not a bodybuilder wearing a shirt that’s 2 sizes too small. (Do you think women who wear properly fitting dresses and blouses are being narcissistic? They have many more figure-fitting styles and that seems pretty normal, why is it different for a guy? Perhaps everyone should be wearing flour sacks?) Otherwise you look like a kid who is wearing his dad’s shirt. Ever see a guy who bought a belt that’s too big, so he has the extra 12″ of the belt wrapped around the side? That looks silly, just as all that extra shirt tucked behind you (and that added fabric makes an ugly bulge in the back of your pants, like you have a diaper). I guess you have the benefit of wearing a jacket to hide all that mess in the back.

    I am a guy who doesn’t like to be constricted in shirts, so I totally understand about not wanting to feel tight in your clothes. I am also on the line between medium and large, with broad shoulders, so I have to decide between a shirt that may be a tiny bit small or one that is too large. (most often I opt for too large). And I also have that sail of fabric tucked in on certain shirts.

  29. oxford cloth button down says:

    Chris – This is not my size or the shirts that I normally wear. This shirt was used to illustrate my point. This shirt is obviously too big, but your are right with a blazer on it is still manageable. Based on all of the comments I don’t think that I made this clear enough.

    I also would never compare men and women when suggesting how clothes should fit. I don’t see how the two are related.

  30. Alex says:

    Do not bother with Broke Brothers,their stuff is of very poor quality. The seams come undone after you wear the pants or shirts just three times. Not for the serious professional. Try Caraceni instead.

  31. Marcio says:

    I think the main problem is that you don’t seem to be buying your shirts in the correct sizing to fit you properly. The one on the picture is maybe two sizes too big for you.

    I happen to have two J. Crew OCBD shirts, one in regular fit and one in slim fit, size medium. Putting the slim on top of the regular to compare them, the difference in shoulder to shoulder is no more than 1/2 inch. Chest, armpit to armpit is about one inch. Waist at the narrowest point, side seam to side seam is a bit less than one inch. There’s not really a lot of a difference, unless you are comparing shirts wildly different in sizing like you seem to be doing. I have other slim fit shirts and regular fit shirts, but not same brand/model to compare, but the differences are not that much for similar size shirts. That’s why BB even has an extra slim fit because the slim fit is not really that much slimmer. It’s just not possible to have the issues you have with slim fit shirts unless you buy slim fit shirts that are too small and regular fit shirts that are too big which is what I think you are doing.

    The gentleman who mentioned that regular fit shirts just got bigger is spot on. Slim fit has nothing to do with fashion. Slim fit is basically what a regular fit was years ago. People just got fatter and clothes just got bigger for the same label size due to vanity sizing. .

  32. oxford cloth button down says:

    Marcio – Thanks for the comment. If you read the post in more detail you will see that I clearly say that the shirt pictured does not fit well.

  33. Paul says:

    That military tuck thing is great if you only care what you look like from the front…

Leave a Reply to Lafcadio