I’ve seen many deceptive things written by clothing retailers, and quite a few of them involve the word ‘perfect’. There are many common claims of perfection – the perfect fit, the perfect material, the perfect replica, and so on. Today I’d like to discuss one in particular – the “perfect shirt length.” The idea here is that some shirts can be made to an optimum length so that they can be worn tucked or untucked. Although having a shirt that can easily convert from business to barcrawls may sound great, I’d like to go on record and say that it isn’t. Much like the two-in-one shampoo/conditioner at cheap hotels or those jars that have peanut butter and jelly swirled together, the idea sounds much better in theory than in practice.
The problem with a shirt featuring an “in-between” length is that it does both jobs poorly. It can slide out awkwardly while tucked in, and looks too frumpy and dad-like when left untucked. When I purchase a shirt I make a decision to have it serve one of these purposes only and make my purchases accordingly.
Though some may disagree, I believe that not all of your shirts need to fit in exactly the same way. Tradition may tell us that a collared shirt should only ever be worn tucked in, but anyone born within the past 50 years knows that this rule no longer applies. Men everywhere are wearing shirts untucked – sometimes effectively, oftentimes poorly – and at this point the look is probably here to stay.
The trick to a successful untucked shirt is making sure that the length is short enough to look good. Primer’s article on the topic illustrates this point well. For me, I have found that the difference in length between my dress shirts and my “untucked only” shirts is at least 2” – a significant amount. The few shirts I own that lie between these two lengths generally sit in my closet unused.
So when you’re looking to add to your shirt collection, decide on how you plan to use your new purchase beforehand and choose one accordingly. When your shirts are being made custom these changes are rather easy, but if you’re shopping off the peg it will require some experimentation. Either way, stay away from shirts that claim to do more than they can.