Have to wear a dress shirt for work? There are more options than just white! Read on to find out what colors to get and which to skip.
Just as every man should own a suit, even if he never wears one, every guy needs to have at least one or two dress shirts to wear with that suit.
However, guys that dress up for work will need a lot more than one or two shirts. While solid white and blue dress shirts are ubiquitous, below I’ll give some tips and ideas to try out patterned dress shirts and shirts in different colors.
Finally, I’ll cover several different dress shirt colors and styles to avoid.
6 Best Dress Shirt Colors
Here’s my pick for the best six dress shirt colors for guys, ranked in order of the most versatile to the least versatile:
White Dress Shirt
The white dress shirt is the king of them all. A crisp white shirt with a good collar is always a good choice.
In fact, for men in certain professions, it’s the only dress shirt to wear. That’s because it’s the most formal and doesn’t draw attention to the wearer.
A man who is a lawyer, funeral director, or clergyman might have a regular rotation of 8-10 white dress shirts or more.
At one point in my life, I rotated between 10 or 11 white dress shirts, and that was it. That’s what I wore, 365 days a year, for two years. (It’s a long story).
Monotonous? Oh yeah.
However, I liked that I didn’t have to think about whether my tie matched my shirt because a white shirt goes with practically any tie color or pattern.
Even for those whose job doesn’t call for only white dress shirts, I still suggest starting with two white dress shirts. One that’s poplin and one with some more texture, like a herringbone or twill weave.
I’d start off with shirts with barrel cuffs (i.e. one’s with buttons), and branch out into French-cuffed shirts later on down the line.
Light Blue Dress Shirt
While some professional men only wear white dress shirts to work, many more only wear white or light blue shirts.
Light blue is still incredibly versatile as it goes with almost anything.
I don’t have much to say about light blue shirts because they’re so simple and easy to style.
Medium Blue Dress Shirts
On the other hand, I have a lot more to say about medium blue.
This is another color (or shade) you’ll see a lot for dress shirts. Personally, I’m usually not a fan.
That’s because most of the time guys wear medium blue shirts it’s in the same thin cotton fabric (usually poplin) as their white or light blue dress shirts. They feel very “boring middle management corporate” to me.
If that’s what you’re going for, more power to you. Just know that there are other options.
If you want to wear a medium blue dress shirt try getting a shirt in a different fabric, such as chambray, end-on-end, or a linen blend.
If you choose to wear a tie, I’d recommend an unpatterned dark red or dark navy one. Since, with a darker-colored shirt, you’ll look a little more casual, a silk knit tie would be perfect to wear in this situation.
I think it’s almost always better to stick to light colors for dress shirts, especially when it’s a plain shirt without a pattern. However, medium blue is a good choice, albeit one that’s difficult to pull off well.
Ivory (Off-White) Dress Shirts
Ivory, or off-white dress, shirts look just like they sound — “off-white.”
I’d style them like I would a regular white shirt except I wouldn’t wear them at formal occasions (like a job interview or funeral), but I think they would be appropriate under all but the most strict office dress codes.
If you want to switch up your suited style but in a very subtle way, get an off-white dress shirt.
Pale Pink Dress Shirts
Believe it or not, light pink is a classic color in men’s shirting. No, you won’t see pink as often as you will white or blue but it’s still a real option to consider.
I think pale pink (and purple) look especially good on guys with darker skin tones.
Pink is a good shirt color for outdoor summer weddings or preppy everyday outfits.
Pink dress shirts are great when it’s almost hard to tell if it’s white or pink from a distance. If the color is too saturated, it can look a little too foppish.
Light Grey Dress Shirts
If you’re going for a dark, dressed-up, monochromatic look, light grey dress shirts are a much better option than black shirts (more on black shirts in a moment).
To finish off the colorless look, choose a solid black or dark grey tie. (I think a dark grey knit tie would look awesome in this scenario).
If you want to add some color, do it subtly with a plain dark red or dark navy tie. Or, you could skip the tie and add a dark-patterned pocket square.
Wearing a light grey dress shirt, I’d stick to black, grey, or oxblood dress shoes or dress boots.
Patterned Dress Shirts
Another way to stand out is to wear patterned dress shirts.
Once again, it’s easy to get this wrong.
Generally, with patterned shirts, it’s easiest to keep light colors as the base. The pattern should typically be fine (not bold). I think some of the best patterns can only be seen up close or if you’re really paying attention.
Pinstripes and checks are the most common, and conservative pattern options. I’d choose thin pinstripes or checks with thin lines for my first few patterned shirts. Polka dots are also a fun option, though more casual.
Of course, there are a few exceptions. Bengal stripes are a bright and bold classic shirt pattern you can wear.
Darker-colored patterned shirts aren’t off the table, but again, darker dress shirts are tough to style.
Minimally patterned dress shirts should be appropriate for almost all office workers.
Dress Shirt Colors to Avoid
Not all so-called dress shirt colors are good options. Here are a few dress shirt colors and styles to avoid:
Dark and/or Saturated Colors
Notice what’s not on the list? Dress shirts in dark or saturated colors.
A bright red dress shirt doesn’t look good on anyone. Even more subdued tones like maroon are extremely hard to pull off.
Bright yellow or mustard-colored dress shirts? Forget about it! (Sorry Dwight)!
If you want to try an unusual color, like green, go for a very light shade.
Black Dress Shirts
Black dress shirts — despite seeing them all the time on the red carpet, they rarely look good.
There is so much to consider when wearing a black dress shirt — your skin tone, your pants and jacket color, your accessories, and more.
Without getting too sidetracked, part of the reason black dress shirts aren’t very versatile is because as a general rule, your inner layer should be lighter than your outer layer. With black, you can’t really go any darker, and a black-over-black look is quite intense.
However, that’s not to say that black dress shirts can’t look good.
The black shirt looks ok in the photo above in part because the dark grey suit is close in color.
That said, I still think that a lighter-colored shirt would’ve worked better here. You can see that his light skin looks washed out in contrast to the black shirt (granted, the camera flash didn’t help any).
For dress shirts, I’d stick with three different basic pattern types: Plain (i.e. no pattern at all), vertical stripes, and small checks.
Other patterns like paisleys, flowers, and caricatures — especially in bold colors — are distracting and aren’t business appropriate.
Here actor Adam Conover is wearing an obnoxiously loud, patterned dress shirt. This is likely part of his rule in his series Adam Ruins Everything in which he purposely portrays an irritating know-it-all. (I’m not being a jerk, that’s how Adam himself has described the character).
While not color-related, I must mention that just because a shirt has buttons and a collar doesn’t mean it’s a dress shirt. Dress shirts are meant to be tucked in, have more structured collars, and are generally made from finer fabrics than casual button-ups.
Check out this video for more differences:
For work, you’re more likely to wear dress shirts than casual button-ups, though you might need both styles.
Whew? Ever think there was so much to learn about dress shirts? Just to think, we only covered colors and patterns — we didn’t even get into collar styles, cuff options, or fit!
For the average guy that wears dress shirts to the office, I’d suggest getting at least two solid white shirts, two solid blue shirts, and three other shirts of the color or subdued pattern of your choice.
Of course, this varies by profession and work culture, but those seven shirts should be enough to get you by.
What do you think? Are there other “must-have” dress shirt colors or patterns I missed? Let me know in the comment section below!