Shirts for men. You need ’em. That much is clear—especially if you’ve ever tried to stroll abs-out into a bodega and try to get service. Beyond that, well, things get a little more confusing. There are dozens upon dozens of styles of men’s shirts out there to choose from, ranging from humble ribbed undershirts all the way up to stiff formal dress shirts. If you need a refresher on dressing your torso after a long stretch quarantining indoors or are simply looking to expand the of your current shirt rotation, we’ve assembled this comprehensive breakdown of 13 quintessential shirts for men that deserve a spot in your closet. In need of a few casual button-downs to shore up your work wardrobe? Don’t know the difference between a polo and a popover? We’ve got all of that need-to-know goodness—and more!—for you here.
The Button-Down Shirt
Button-downs are so named for the buttons on their collars, which were originally meant to keep them from flapping about while you galloped down field on horseback during a rousing game of polo. Today, they are the quintessential casual shirt, often crafted from heavyweight oxford cloth or lightweight madras cotton, perfect for wearing anyplace that doesn’t require a tie.
The Dress Shirt
For situations that do require a tie—or at least you’re looking a little snazzier in a sport coat—you’ll need a proper dress shirt. Finding the right dress shirt for you can take some doing, given the sheer breadth of collar shapes, cuff styles, and more to choose from. As a general rule, though the finer the fabric and the fewer the details (a chest pocket versus no chest pocket, for instance), the dressier the shirt.
The Going-Out Shirt
Heading out to tear up the own? Going-out shirts are the slinky, silky, flashy, flowy bangers. You’ll want to hit the club or impress a date. You’ll want to wear these with a handful of buttons undone, a bunch of your flashiest necklaces, and your very best dancing shoes.
The Polo Shirt
Polo shirts serve a number of purposes: they are more proper than a tee, but more casual than a button-down; look great with a suit at a summer wedding or tucked in with some trousers at the office; sporty enough to take out on the links or on the tennis court. But most of all, they make you look hotthanks to their snug knit body and attractive collared placket.
The Rugby Shirt
Where polos are soft and inviting, rugby shirts are built burly and tough for surviving the pitch. They often come with a contrasting collar in a myriad of colors and patterns, and work as well worn like a sweater in the winter—layered over an oxford button-down, for instance—as they do on their own with shorts in the spring.
The Denim Shirt
Denim shirts bring a tough workwear edge to your ensembles, and are versatile enough to pair with your baggiest painter pants or your sharpest suit. Just like your blue jeans, they come in a wide range of indigo tones and will look and feel better the longer and harder you wear them.
The Basic T-Shirt
T-shirts were first developed as an undergarment for the US Navy at the turn of the 20th century, cut from cotton to absorb sweat and breathe well under uniforms. Today, the humble garment has become a worldwide icon while remaining effectively unchanged from those early designs. As the likes of Marlon Brando and Muhammad Ali once proved, there’s no stronger look than a fitted T-shirt with a simple pair of jeans.
The Graphic T-Shirt
Where plain tees are chameleonic, graphic tees can bring some major personality to an outfit. From cheeky novelty prints to concert merch, there’s a graphic T-shirt out there designed to announce your tastes and interests to the world.
The Popover Shirt
Popover shirts are named for their plackets, which only extend to the middle of the shirt—hence the need to pop them over your noggin. They have a casual feel, which can help to tone down the seriousness of a blazer. Popovers are a product of midcentury Ivy League style, so they’ll look great with crisp chinos and loafers, but don’t be afraid to loosen things up and pair yours with somely baggy, skater-approved pants.
The Henley Shirt
Think of henley shirts as a collarless relative to the polo. They’re cut from a knit material with a placket that generally extends to the sternum. Henleys possess a rugged, old-school charm reminiscent of long johns, so layering one under a flannel or denim shirt atop some burly boots feels just right.
The Camp Shirt
Camp shirts are most notable for their open collar design. They have roots in the guayabera, a traditional lightweight shirt popular in Cuba. Though camp shirts are more popular in the warmer months and come in lightweight fabrics, the design can also carry over into thicker fabrics that are better suited for winter. Because of the open collar, it’s great for framing necklaces or an undershirt, and pairs really well with flowy, wide-leg pants.
The Flannel Shirt
Flannel is a heavy brushed fabric often made from cotton or wool, but also synthetic materials like polyester. They’re most often associated with traditional patterns like Black Watch tartan and Buffalo plaid, but come in solid colors as well. Flannel shirts are great for the chillier months, layered beneath a thick sweater or worn loosely like an overshirt.
Undershirts are meant to be worn as a base layer to either keep the wearer warm and/or absorb unwanted moisture. More functional than fashionable, undershirts are often made from synthetic materials that are engineered to promote sweat-wicking, breathability, and insulation.