A thousand faces of a shirt

The style of shirt someone wears says much more about them than you would think, and regardless of personal style, some are just not appropriate for certain occasions. Formal and casual are the extreme ends of a continuum, so it’s worth knowing where the various patterns fit in. So before you buy your next shirt, make sure to choose the right style for each occasion. Here is a guide to help simplify the decision and make sure your choice is never out of place.

Plain colours

The position of plain shirts on the formal-casual spectrum depends on their colour. White or pale blue are the most formal and appropriate for business wear; earthy and pastel shades are good for casual situations, while bold colours and black should be reserved for clubbing and nights out.


Stripes are the most formal pattern of all. That said, the width of the stripes and the distance between them greatly influence the final look. Finer stripes running close together are generally formal, while thick, wider apart stripes are more casual. In the same way, vertical stripes are more formal than horizontal.


At first glance, the Tattersall pattern might look very similar to stripes, but closer inspection reveals two main differences: first, the lines are twisted and warped and look almost spiral; secondly, the lines are not all the same colour, as the pattern is woven into the fabric rather than dyed after weaving. A relatively casual pattern that can be worn with jeans for a comfortable look, or to play down a smart suit.

The tattersall motif is reminiscent of the check design, also woven into the fabric in a single-colour grid of thick stripes. It will be darker at the point where the vertical and horizontal stripes intersect.


The Scottish pattern features a crisscross grid of lines in various colours and thicknesses. Most tartans use red or green as primary colours, with black, blue, yellow and white as secondary shades. Tartan is a casual pattern that features primarily on wool in the fall and winter, but should generally be avoided for smarter wear.

Polka dots

Polka dots are an iconic motif with a playful look, an extremely casual option that requires a lot of confidence. As the size of the dots increases, your shirt will be more and more casual.


Dating back to ancient Middle Eastern cultures, the paisley pattern stands out for its colours, and the soft, rounded shapes similar to a teardrop that recall floral motifs. Also woven directly into the fabric, it is probably the most casual style for men's shirts, not suitable for wearing with ties, scarves and pocket handkerchiefs.