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Shirts - What Makes The Difference?

December 04 2015 – Hemanth Mirpuri

When choosing a new shirt to purchase, the options are limitless; do you purchase a ready-made shirt or do you go bespoke? What is the difference between a shirt that retails for CHF39 and one that retails for CHF400? The list goes on and on. This is a handy guide of the main components that make up a well-made shirt and will help you pick the right shirt for you.

100% Cotton

For the most of us, the basic requirement is a 100% cotton shirt. However, shirts at the lower end of the market tend to be more of a cotton “blend” i.e., having a mix of cotton and polyester or some other synthetic fibre. Poly-cotton shirts are more competitively priced and preferable in some professions such as catering or hospitality due to their durability. Yet for work and even for casual wear, most would prefer the comfort and luxury of a 100% cotton shirt.

Quality of Cotton

Assuming that the shirt is 100% cotton, there are also varying amounts of cotton that may be in any given shirt. The quality of a cotton shirt is normally determined by two factors; whether it is single or double weave and the yarn count.

Single weave or double weave - Single weave (1-ply) cotton means that individual strands of cotton are woven together with other individual strands to create the fabric. With shirts made from double weave (2-ply) cotton, two individual yarns are first twisted together before been woven together. As such, you are getting double the amount of cotton in any individual shirt. The benefits are obvious in the softer touch of the fabric as well as the increased durability.

Yarn count - it is common to see a number (such as 80s, 100s, 120s etc) on shirts to denote the quality of it. The number relates to the thickness of yarn and how many threads there are per square inch. The higher the number, the thinner and finer the yarn and the more threads there are per square inch. Accordingly a shirt with a 120 yarn count is more luxurious than a shirt with an 80 yarn count.

For shirts to be worn for work (i.e.for a minimum of 8 hours a day) I recommend a 2 ply cotton shirt with a yarn count of 120; this provides the necessary luxury as well as the required durability. For shirts to be worn for special occasions (such as tuxedo shirts) a yarn count of 140 provides the additional softness and need not be as durable due to its limited use.


Quality of the cotton aside, how the shirt is put together plays a very important role in determining how long it will last you. We have all had the experience of a button falling off or a seam coming undone. One of the reasons why some shirts last longer than others is due to the number of stitches per inch holding the shirt together. Most shirts have an average of 14 to 15 stitches per inch, which by most measures is acceptable. Finer shirts, or shirts made with a little more attention, tend to have a minimum of 21 stitches per inch.

Over time, you would begin to notice that the collars and cuffs begin to fray and may even have some bubbling in them. This is due to the quality of the interlining that is used and whether the collars and cuffs have been fused together or handstitched. Fusing is a quick and inexpensive way to create them, but the result is that over time the glue may dissolve and the shirt would be ruined. Finer shirts tend to have slightly thicker interlinings which last longer after several washes and are stitched together, rather than fused.

For shirts with a stripe or a check in the design, matching the fabric pattern at the critical seams is any easy way to evaluate its quality. Brands that focus on quality use needle tables, where each shirt component is aligned individually and placed one by one on top of the other, to ensure that stripes, checks and weaves are matched perfectly at the seams.

So there you have it, hopefully a useful guide as what makes the difference in shirt price. The question is now that you are in the know, does it make a difference?