The Shirting Lexicon: When is a Shirt not a Shirt?

The Shirting Lexicon: When is a Shirt not a Shirt?

Men’s fashion and formalwear can admittedly be a bit cryptic to the novice. When discussing men’s clothing, some questions that can arise are “what’s a men’s dress shirt?”, “is a polo shirt a sports shirt?”, “does a sweatshirt count as athletic wear?” or “is a sports shirt athletic wear?”.

These are all valid questions when it comes to decoding the lexicon of men’s shirts. Here is your handy guide on different kinds of men’s shirts, so you know what you’re talking about and how or when to wear them.

Men’s Dress Shirts

Men's dress shirts are very often white or blue in color or pattern and may have a button-down or straight collar. Sometimes they are referred to as men’s button-downs or button-up shirts because you literally button them up or down to wear them. These shirts tend to be more formal and worn in professional or occasion settings such as a fancy dinner, wedding, or event.

Dress shirts are probably most commonly worn in office and professional settings as business casual attire or under a men’s suit. Some dress shirts can also be tastefully dressed down, however, by wearing them unbuttoned over a T-shirt or with a pair of jeans. Dress shirts with jeans and a blazer are a great look for date nights or more formal events that don’t require a whole suit.

Sport Shirts

In contrast to a men’s dress shirt, a men’s sport shirt is less formal and considered overall to be more casual. Traditionally, these shirts were designed to be worn during “sport” while still looking proper enough for the time. While sports shirts still have the button-down design and the collar, they tend to be overall more casual and wearable for a variety of occasions. Sports shirts include Oxford shirts for day-to-day wear, flannel shirts for that perfect cabin core look, camping shirts for your outdoor activities, and Hawaiian shirts for some extra-tropical flair.

While dress shirts tend to be more neutral in color and have stiffer collars, sports shirts can get away with more patterns, bigger and bolder colors, more pockets, different kinds of buttons, decorative stitching, and any other design feature that makes the shirt overall more interesting. They also tend to be made of different kinds of materials and fabrics to match their laid-back style.

A Hawaiian shirt is a great example of a sports shirt that definitely comes in different fabrics, styles, colors, and prints. Sport shirts are also great for men who don’t love wearing dress shirts but still need to don a collared shirt for certain events or restaurants. Wearing a sport shirt over your favorite men’s t-shirt and jeans is probably the most reliable outfit there is for men.

The Polo Shirt

Men’s polo shirts are like a more formal step up from a T-shirt, but also a more casual and sporty step down from a men’s collared or button-down shirt. Traditionally, men’s polo shirts were worn to play tennis but have since become a regular wardrobe staple fashionable for both men and women.

Coming in many different colors, styles, and designs, the polo shirt can really be whatever you want it to be. Polo shirts make a great option for date night, business casual attire, casual sports, and honestly just about for anything. Wear with a pair of jeans or shorts and you’re good to go.

Activewear Shirts

While we’ve covered sports shirts and polo shirts, we’ve now arrived at the men’s shirts that are actually worn for sports and activities. Men’s active tops are specifically designed for sports and activity in that they’re moisture-wicking, breathable, and lightweight to wear.

Activewear shirts are made from fabric and materials which use specific technology to support high performance and activity. While made for movement, these shirts are actually just great to wear in general. While not really what you’d choose to wear to a dinner or the office, they are definitely great for day-to-day wear and activities that require comfort and ease.

While the world of menswear can certainly be mysterious, it really doesn’t have to be confusing. When shopping for your significant other or yourself, keep in mind when purchasing men’s shirts to choose shirts that are going to be comfortable, long-lasting, and work for the occasions and functions you have in mind.


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