For those forced to wear a suit despite a proclivity for sweat, hope is out there. If you melt in traditional dress shirts, whether because they're too thick or simply too tight, there are other options available. Some trade their hefty cotton construction for a mix of breathable materials, while others simply add stretch so the shirts have a little give. But it isn't as easy as feeling whether the shirts stretch or not.
Best Overall Performance Dress ShirtRhone Commuter Shirt Read More
Best Upgrade Performance Dress ShirtFaherty The Movement Shirt Read More
Best Affordable Performance Dress ShirtGap Performance Poplin Shirt Read More
State & Liberty The Springer Shirt Read More
Untuckit Wrinkle-Free Performance Shirt Read More
What Are Performance Fabrics?
Performance fabrics that were once exclusive to athletic apparel are now being made appropriate for business meetings and dressier nights out. These next-gen, high-tech shirts keep you cool and collected when the temperatures turn up, so while others keep a change of clothes close by, you’ll be dry, cool and unwrinkled.
That's the main draw, says shirting expert, and State & Liberty co-founder, Lee Moffie.
"First and foremost is going to be comfort," he says. "The 4-way stretch allows for guys to wear the shirt a little more fitted than a traditional dress shirt without sacrificing comfort. Next is going to be the performance aspect of the shirt. The fabric not only keeps guys cool and dry throughout the day but it also lasts longer and looks sharp over multiple wears and washes. Last is the easy care. The performance fabric is wrinkle-free and can be machine washed which means they travel well and guys can save hundreds of dollars a year by not having to dry clean their dress shirts."
Terms to Know
- Performance: The "performance" denotation implies the fabrics used on this shirt were first used in athletic arenas. They'll likelier be better at moisture wicking, breathing and stretching.
- Commuter, Traveler, Movement: Terms like these, which conjure long trips or busy subway trains, imply the shirts they describe will be comfortable in these tight-quartered environments. Think of them as substitutes for terms like performance.
- Stretch: Stretch refers to a shirt's ability to give to your body's natural movements. Maybe you lift your arms above your head to hold onto the subway rail, or your bike to work. Essentially, the shirt won't suffocate you — meaning you don't have to worry about it ripping at the seams.
- COOLMAX: COOLMAX is a polyester-based fabric trademarked and sold by The Lycra Company. Although there are similar polyester blends out there, this one is a brand name. Look for it employed in the shirt's official name.
Materials to Look for
"Traditionally a performance dress shirt is one that is made from technical, man-made fabrics," Moffie, our expert, says. Below you'll find a breakdown of these materials. "These dress shirts are meant to perform and withstand the wear and tear of everyday life. These dress shirts are stretchy, moisture wicking, wrinkle-free, durable and easy care."
How to Style a Performance Dress Shirt
When you wear a dress shirt with added stretch, it's important to consider the jacket or pants you pair it with. They must be equally as sleek, especially since most performance dress shirts have a slight sheen. Try a poly or satin silk tie; opt for pants with a modern edge, meaning they have a tapered fit and no obvious texture (i.e. avoid pairing your performance dress shirt with nappy corduroy pants).
According to Moffie, the main draw is a better fit — without sacrificing comfort. "Stretch allows for guys to wear the shirt a little more fitted than a traditional dress shirt without sacrificing comfort," he says. Plus, they never look wrinkled, "which means they travel well and guys can save hundreds of dollars a year by not having to dry clean their dress shirts," he adds.
How We Tested
Our tester wore several of our top picks for a number of hours, both underneath a jacket and on their own, with and without a tie, assessing how the collar, cuffs and hems feel, but also how they button, whether they wrinkle with time and if they can withstand a normal wash cycle.
Rhone Commuter Shirt
Rhone's Commuter Shirt saves those, as the name suggests, commuting — either cramped on a subway or slouched in the driver's seat — from the hassle of having to refresh themselves upon arrival. The shirt proves machine washable and interwoven nylon and elastane offer natural wrinkle release.
As for fit, it offers the best silhouette of the bunch. The collar's handy button stays are easy to use and create a trim neckline for the tie to hang from. The cuffs offer two button positions, too, something our tester liked for when they wore the shirt one way (without a jacket) versus another (on its own).
It's also the most breathable of the options our tester tried, thanks to the nylon-elastane blend that's both thin but also durable. (You couldn't see through it, for example, even when our tester wasn't wearing an undershirt.)
Faherty Movement Shirt
Founded by Mike Faherty, a designer who rose through the ranks at Ralph Lauren, Faherty produces an array of staples inspired by sun and surf — and New England prep styles. Cut from a proprietary blend of cotton, lyocell, nylon and spandex, their Movement Shirt appeases both camps by guaranteeing a good-looking, albeit traditional, fit but with plenty of stretch at stress points. Pick from a few plaid colorways, several gingham patterns or your usual solids.
Gap Performance Poplin Shirt
Cut from a blended stretch poplin fabric with moisture-wicking CoolMax tech, Gap's Performance Poplin Shirt comes in two cuts and nearly a dozen colors. Plus, given the brand's inclination for ongoing sales, the shirt is usually under $50.
State & Liberty The Springer Shirt
State & Liberty's shirts are made from the brand's proprietary Athletic Performance Fabric, a blend of polyester and spandex. But most are cut with an athletic fit, which flatters without being too form-fitting. Sure, a lot of NFLers wear this one, but you don't need to be built like one to wear it. The shoulders are tailored, while a hidden button collar stay helps keep it upright.
The collar is a little crunchy, though, our tester found. It's a tad oversized and almost feels like it's filled with cardboard, which makes it hard to flip up to put on a tie. It also rubs, our tester found, if you're someone with a thicker neck because State and Liberty does not offer specific sizes, just alpha ones: XS through 3XL.
Untuckit Wrinkle-Free Performance Shirt
Untuckit's most popular performance dress shirt comes in three colors: white, navy and black. No matter which you choose, it'll complement a solid pair of slacks or a two-piece suit. Plus, you won't overheat, and the shirt obviously won't wrinkle, except for near the armpits, where a suit jacket might fold it a few times over. When worn on its own, they found, the shirt stays nice and neat.
It's made from nylon and elastane, so it stretches, and you can order it in three different fits, Regular, Slim or Relaxed. Untuckit does also offer a key for its alpha sizes, letting you get as close as possible to your bespoke measurements (i.e. chest, neck and sleeve length), unlike State and Liberty, for example.
Bonobos Jetsetter Stretch Dress Shirt
Long flights guarantee at least a few wrinkles — and who the hell, in their right mind, would want to wear a dress shirt during one? (Writer David Coggins would argue otherwise.) Bonobos' Jetsetter option betters the experience by transforming the tailored shirt into a travel-friendly top. Cotton and spandex complement one another, and collar stays to ensure you'll stay intact.
Lululemon Commission Long Sleeve Shirt
Though I'd advise against wearing this Lululemon shirt with a suit, it's perfectly fine paired with smarter trousers or sleek chinos. Ideal for the office, its traditional shape skews professional while remaining comfortable. Eyelets help ventilate, while gusseted armpits offer a better range of motion. Best of all, though, this shirt is infused with No-Stink Zinc technology, which fends off the bacteria that causes body odor.
Mizzen and Main Lightweight Leeward Dress Shirt
The Leeward Dress Shirt looks like your typical sheer suiting staple, but its 88 percent polyester and 12 percent spandex construction promises comfortability, super-fast drying, steadfast anti-wrinkle support and zero pilling. It's also available in an array of colors.
Ministry of Supply Apollo Shirt
Cut from 57 percent polyester and 53 percent polyester infused with NASA's temperature-regulating Phase Change technology, Ministry of Supply's aptly named Apollo shirt offers the same performance abilities of athletic apparel with the look of something more formal. This iteration is slimmer through the body, moisture-wicking and boasts a curved hem you can wear tucked into pants under a blazer or undone — if you're striving for a more casual feel.
Twillory Performance Closer Shirt
While most performance dress shirts come in standard shirt sizing — XS-XL — you order your Twillory shirts like true made-to-measure ones: by selecting your fit, size and sleeve length. This makes for a more personalized fit, creating a shirt that's less universal and more true to just you. Every single one, though, comes made from a 4-way stretch fabric made with COOLMAX's moisture-wicking tech. Plus, this one has a non-iron wrinkle-resistant treatment so you'll never look too disheveled — even after a red eye.
All Citizens The Lightweight Performance Dress Shirt
All Citizens' performance dress shirt — performance is in the name — is surprisingly affordable considering the tech employed. You can pick from two fabric types, Lightweight or All-Weather, which emphasize breathability or water- and wrinkle-resistance respectively. Both come with 360-degree stretch and a tailored body that lends itself to being worn tucked or untucked. But there's even further personalization available, too: You can pick your size, fit and sleeve length.
ESQ Angelo Bamboo Blue Dress Shirt
Bamboo — yes, bamboo — gives ESQ's performance fabric dress shirt its softness and breathability. Over a decade of tailoring done at their Chicago shop informs the brand's cuts, which are classic yet flattering. Plus, not only does its composition — 48.5 percent bamboo, 48.5 percent microfiber and 3 percent lycra — prevent wrinkles but it also deters odors and wicks sweat.