Off the cuff

Shirting 101: The five shirts you need


Words: Nhlanhla Masemola | Images: Ian Engelbrecht

Unwritten rule alert: the top half of your outfit should subtly direct the eye to your dashing face. The easiest way to go about this? A considered shirt, of course. And a good one shouldn’t cost the shirt off your back, literally. If you find a fit that nails style, function and affordability, you’re onto a sure thing. Short sleeve or button down. Plaid or denim. Sharp collars or sophisticated prints. Figure out the styles that make you feel and look your best. This summer, here are the five shirts that will see you through the season with flair.


Once a classic piece of work attire dating back to an era before laptops were an office necessity, the short-sleeved dress shirt has certainly paid its dues. And guess who’s back? Consider it a smart addition to your casual or semi-formal wardrobe. When the warm weather allows, wear it without a tie – and don’t be afraid to add a little print when you do.

button down

Button downs, named for the buttons on the collar that one has to button down, tend to be cut from lightweight cotton. Crisp and smart, they can be dressed up or down to suit any occasion. Wear one under a blazer for work, with or without a tie, or with a pair of rolled-up jeans and clean white sneakers for a considered off-duty look.


Ah, denim. The classic, versatile fabric that only seems to get better with age. Long a signifier of effortless cool, denim is light enough to serve as an alternative to seersucker fabric and soft enough to wear with jeans for a comfortable, double-denim look. Enhance its office appeal with a pair of turned-up chinos and suede boots or derbies.


Many items of clothing fall in and out of fashion, worn enthusiastically one season and ridiculed the next. But some don’t. The checked shirt, with its origins dating back to Scottish tartan, is one such example. It gained its name as a clothing essential on the backs of cowboys and lumberjacks and still serves a purpose in wardrobes today. You may not chop down trees for a living, but wearing a check can make office days feel a little bit more fun. Wear as smart as possible to not fall into punk rocker territory.


The Mandarin-collar shirt (or grandad-collar shirt) is one of those versatile basics. The garment has always been associated with utilitarian style and Chinese elegance. A collarless shirt is ideal if you want to stand out for all the right reasons. Try wearing one over a classic white tee with tailored trousers or under an unlined blazer if you need to look slightly smarter.