While there are now many options for a correct morning dress shirt today, back in the day there were certain shirt rules, which we will expound upon below. Also, please do not miss our separate section about tunic shirts & detachable collars, which are still worn by traditionalists today.
Morning Dress Shirt History
Horizontally Striped Morning Shirt
A morning dress shirt was always a plain white and made of cotton or linen. It was topped off with an obligatory white, polished, detachable standing collar. The shirt front was starched and the detachable cuffs were originally called surgeon’s cuffs, because they could easily be taken off by a doctor before surgery. Shortly after the morning coat had evolved, the detachable wing collar became acceptable as well. The cuffs where still stiff and had to be closed with cuff links. After WWI, the turndown collar became more and more popular, and by the 1930s, most men wore the detachable white turndown collar. The wing collar was only seen when a cravat (also known as an ascot) was worn. The cuffs became softer as well and were now folded over, hence the term double cuff. Moreover, the shirts now came in various colors ranging from salmon, blue, light blue, pink, and yellow, and were paired with white collars. By the 1950s, the stiff shirt front was only worn with formal court dress and the turndown collar was now often soft and attached to the shirt.
Morning Dress Shirts Today – Winchester Shirt
Morning Dress Winchester Shirt in Pink with White Cuffs & Slim Tie
Today, most men will wear a soft white-collared double cuff shirt with cuff links. White is still the standard color but you will see all kinds of colors in shirts with light blue being the most popular. While the collar is always white, the cuffs are sometimes tailored in the shirt fabric instead. Most morning shirts are plain or have subtle stripes. Some people actually call a colored shirt with a contrasting white collar (and sometimes cuffs) a Winchester Shirt, named after shirtmaker Oliver Fisher Winchester. Mr. Winchester, in partnership with John M. Davies, had successfully established the Winchester and Davies Shirt Manufacturing Company. On February 1, 1848, Winchester had filed a patent for a specific type of shirt construction with tapered shoulders that was designed to prevent the neck band from pulling when worn with suspenders. Before, they used to be cut rather boxy.
Morning Dress Shirt with Contrasting Collar But Yellow Shirt & Cuffs
His patent turned out to be so lucrative that Winchester was able to buy the Volcanic Repeating Arms Co. in 1857, which was renamed Winchester Repeating Arms Co.in 1867. From then on, he became world famous. However, there seems to be no evidence confirming that Mr. Winchester actually invented or popularized the white contrasting shirt collar.
While these shirts with sewn-on collar are absolutely the standard nowadays, traditionalists – including Prince Charles – like to wear shirts with detachable collars. Since these shirts have a different history and require more care, we wrote a separate article about shirt for detachable collars.
To Show Or Not To Show Cuff
Just like with suits, there is the endless debate whether a gentleman should show a bit of shirt cuff with proper morning dress or not. And the quick answer is: do as you wish. For more more details about the matter, you should take a look at the excellent Guide about the Correct Sleeve Length.
The Duke of Kent in Blue White Striped Shirt at Royal Ascot
Morning Dress Shirt Colors & Styles
As outlined in the Winchester shirt history section, a great alternative to plain white shirts is colored or patterned shirts with a white contrasting collar. Most commonly, you will see plain colors or vertical stripes. If you are interested in a unique style, I am sure a horizontally striped shirt with a white collar can look quite dapper, too. In any case, you will not be able to see much of the shirt under the tie, ascot and waistcoat.
In theory, there is no restriction on color, although naturally most shirts come in some shade of blue.
Prince William In Plain Blue Winchester Shirt with White Collar & Navy Red Club Tie
Blue Morning Dress Shirt
A light blue shirt is an absolute classic. Prince Charles is obviously a fan of blue shirts for formal morning wear, and overall you cannot go wrong if you choose blue. Fortunately, it works very well with light grey or dark gray, and although it is not an original color choice, chances are your outfit look classic and elegant if you choose blue. Of course, matching the shirt color with the tie is equally as important as the color choice, and I think blue is once again very versatile.
Blue Winchester Shirt with Grey Waistcoat 1934
Black or white patterns will look just as fine, as will pastel tones of yellow, pink, lavender or green. As a rule of thumb, the darker the blue, the stronger the color of the neckwear should be. A darker blue shirt would look splendid with a strong burgundy or yellow, while a pale blue usually works well with a pale colored tie.
Most men have strong opinions about wearing pink shirts, and most either wear them often or abstain from the color entirely. Many assume that pink is exclusively a feminine color that has no place in a man’s wardrobe. However, it can look quite nice on a person with a little bit of tan and some self confidence. On the other hand, if you have very pale skin, I would advise against light pink shirts. Stronger pinks may work for any complexion, but again, it depends on the harmony with the necktie or ascot. Grey, royal blue and British Racing Green are just a few colors that come to mind.
Peach / Salmon
Another color that works particularly well with a little bit of a tan is peach or buff. These two colors are excellent, surprisingly versatile alternatives to pink. In the past, I have strongly encouraged the use of peach-colored shirts especially with brown suits, but it works just as well with a traditional morning coat. Since the collar should be white, you should make sure to choose a shade that is not too light, otherwise it may look oddly flesh toned.
Yellow White Striped Shirt with Contrast Collar & Cuffs
A yellow Winchester Shirt – no matter whether it is pale yellow or corn yellow, will look great with a grey or light blue linen waistcoat and a harmonizing tie. Consider this color if you want something different.
Not many people own green shirts. I don’t know if this is because there is no demand or because few shirtmakers carry a nice range of green fabrics. In any case, a pale granny smith green shirt with a white club collar looks simply superb with a charcoal morning coat and a dove grey waistcoat. I have worn this ensemble before with a stroller and I got nothing but compliments.
Green Morning Shirt with White Club Collar
Bolder Stripes & Patterns
Small Gingham Checked Shirt for Morning Dress
Red Gingham Morning Dress Shirt
Personally, I would probably refrain from wearing bold stripes because I would associate them with more casual shirts, but you may be able to find a striped shirt that really works well. That being said, I am sure a subtle houndstooth or glencheck pattern will look nice as well, especially in a more traditional color like blue. But again, the morning shirts gives you great flexibility to create your unique style.