It’s an issue all serious male dancers and dance teachers struggle with. That horrible looking shoulder line when you raise your arms to take dance hold. It’s why we pay big bucks for properly tailored dance jackets and tailsuits. I wanted to compare some popular shirt brands to see which might be the best choice of dress shirt for dancers.
The problem is one common to pretty well all shirts and jackets, unless they are especially designed for dance. When you raise your arms, the fabric around the shoulder area bunches up, making the shoulders look as if they are lifted up to your ears, even when they aren’t. Shirts designed for competition deal with this, designed to make the shoulder line look clean. But dance instructors can’t always be wearing custom-designed dance costume shirts for teaching.
When you raise your arms, the fabric around the shoulder bunches up, making the shoulders look as if they are lifted up to your ears.
Below is the view from the back of a typical department-store dress shirt. In this case, made by Guess. It’s a nice shirt, fits beautifully and looks great. That is, until you raise your arms. Then, suddenly, all this extra fabric bunches up at the shoulders making it look as if they are hunched up. On top of that, additional flaps of fabric manifest themselves in several places along the arms and back. These things make the shirt unsuitable for teaching. And the problem is not unique to the Guess brand. I compared numerous shirts from other major department store brands including H&M, Le Chateau, Calvin Klein and even more exotic brands like Hugo Boss. They all have exactly the same problem.
Several well-respected online brands offer high quality shirts. These brands let you order regular fit, slim fit or tailored fit. You can choose the type of cuff you like and the type of collar, as well as the size. I asked a number of these online brands for a sample to try so that we could run a comparison review for the ballroom dance community. Three of the companies were willing to take part in the test and sent me a shirt in my size.
I used each company’s website to place my order so that I could evaluate the overall look and feel of the shopping experience. I waited until I got all the products before opening the packaging, to see how they compared. Note that the photos below reflect the look of the shirt straight out of the package, so naturally they’re a bit wrinkled due to the packaging process. I didn’t want to first wash and iron the shirts as that might have tainted the results.
Let’s take a look and see which of the three brands is the best dress shirt for dancers.
Charles Tyrwhitt is a British brand shipping from the UK. It has been around for a number of years. Their men’s dress shirt selection currently runs at 263 shirts in a wide variety of colors and fabrics. Selecting French cuffs (they call them “double cuffs”) drops the selection to 184 shirts, which is still impressive. Prices are roughly equivalent to what you would pay for a department store shirt and there are deals for buying four shirts at a time. Also be aware that clothing made in the UK can come with substantial duties for Canadians. I’ve been charged 100% duty on occasion, but other times the package just comes through without being intercepted.
Their website is nicely designed and easy to use. You can easily filter your selection based on considerations like collar style, color, fit and size. Shirt sizes are somewhat limited, as many shirts don’t come in collar sizes below 15.5 inches. Note that the shirts don’t include a front pocket, but you can add one for $7.95 extra.
I ordered a white shirt with blue vertical stripes in a slim fit with French cuffs. The packaging is nicely designed. One thing I appreciated is that there are no pins to worry about. A label on the inside of the collar gives all the relevant information. The shirt includes a pair of brass collar stays embossed with the company name. The fabric is nice and the fit is great.
When raising the arms there is some shoulder fabric bunching up, but it has a reasonably clean shoulder line that’s a lot better than what you get from department store shirts.
Paul Fredrick is an American brand based in Florida. The company has been in business for 30 years, making them the most experienced vendor of the group. They offer a variety of fabrics and colors, with 613 styles available at this time. That drops significantly to 144 when you filter for French cuffs. Most shirts are available in regular and slim fit options. Prices are the most reasonable of the three vendors reviewed here. Almost all the shirts include a front pocket.
Like the other sites, Paul Fredrick is well designed and easy to use. You can filter on size, color, collar, cuff, and other criteria like sleeve, pocket style and even pattern. The site has a section where you can order custom shirts where you choose the fabric and various aspects of the styling. However, for most people the standard options will be quite enough and the price, of course, increases if you choose the custom build.
I selected a plain white shirt in Egyptian cotton in a Slim fit with French cuffs. The fabric is quite nice, with a luxurious feel. The packaging is virtually identical to that from Charles Tyrwhitt, but the shirt did have two pins holding the collar button in place. This is a bit annoying because it’s always a question of how to dispose of pins, since they can potentially injure someone. Their shirt has plastic collar stays but they include an extra pair in case the stays bend or break.
The fit is great, with a nice smooth back as the arms raise up. There is minimal shoulder bunching; even less than that of the Charles Tyrwhitt shirt. What I did notice is that the diameter of the arm opening at the base (under the shoulder area) is bigger than that of the other brands, making the shape of the arm less visually attractive than either of the other two shirts.
Proper Cloth is an American brand that’s been around since 2008. They specialize in offering more exotic fabrics and styles. I’ve ordered from this company before and have been impressed with the product, but found that these exotic fabrics often give out fairly early in their life cycle. Previous purchases have suffered from tearing around button holes or simple fabric wear that makes them unusable within a few weeks. I had one shirt wear out with fabric tears after only half a dozen wearings. That’s unfortunate since Proper Cloth shirts are by far the most expensive of the three brands compared in this review. And not just a little pricier, but so high that you can buy 3-4 Paul Fredrick shirts for the price of a single Proper Cloth shirt.
The Proper Cloth website is nicely designed. You are immediately encouraged to set up your custom measurements. This is quite a strong feature. Proper Cloth even allows you to set such details as a slightly larger cuff diameter on your “watch” wrist to allow extra space for those who wear large-profile Rolex or Omega-style watches. However, I did find it a bit confusing to set up the measurements because there are some vague options. For example, you can put in your measurements and then you can still choose slim fit vs classic fit or athletic fit. So what does that mean? Does slim fit override your measurement or ignore it? The site doesn’t make this clear.
There are 64 different styles of shirt but you can order most of them with French cuffs if desired. Only a few really unique styles don’t allow that option. For the most part, each shirt is custom made to your specifications, with a great number of details that you can indicate. Prices, as I mentioned, are considerably higher than the other brands, no doubt because of their heavy focus on customization.
From this company I ordered a Slim fit shirt in black twill fabric with French cuffs. The Proper Cloth shirt had the most environmentally friendly packaging. There were no pins to worry about. I was a bit disappointed that the label inside the collar doesn’t include any information other than the brand name. This might make it challenging if you’re sharing laundry with someone else who has the same taste in shirts. The collar stays are brass, embossed with the company name. I appreciated that this shirt contained an extra front button at the very bottom of the placket, a nice touch that helps to avoid the inverted V of fabric you can get at the belt line.
The fit was the best of the three. Raising the arms had the least amount of bunching at the shoulders, making this the clear winner of the group and the best choice of dress shirt for dancers. In addition, the arm holes are nicely shaped so that when the arms go up, they didn’t look as if they just got thicker, unlike the Paul Fredrick shirt. However, the Proper Cloth Slim fit is a bit “skinnier” than either of the other brands, so you need to be careful with this choice. Don’t select Slim fit unless you are truly skinny. I’m pretty slim and the shirt feels snug, which is almost uncomfortable at times. I did like that the back is considerably flatter than the other brands.
All three shirts significantly reduced the shoulder bunching when compared to department store brands. That makes any of them a good choice of dress shirt for dancers.
Of the three, Proper Cloth offered the cleanest shoulder line. However, dancers and dance teachers would probably be quite satisfied with products from any of these three companies.
Proper Cloth is the most expensive, while Paul Fredrick is the most economical.
Charles Tyrwhitt ships from the UK, which can lead to high duty charges for Canadian customers.
Paul Fredrick and Charles Tyrwhitt offer fairly conservative style choices, while Proper Cloth has the most stylish options in terms of fabric and colors.
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