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Dress Shirts vs Sports Shirts: What’s the Difference?

Businessman wearing a dress shirt, standing with his hands in his pockets.

The rules of dress dictate the proper attire for various occasions. Where a colorful tie may be appropriate for a cocktail party, it simply would not work for a formal state dinner or meeting with the company’s CEO. When the goal is to dress to impress, knowing the difference between seemingly similar articles of clothing is crucial. Take shirts for example. Dress and sports shirts have similarities, but knowing which makes all the difference in being well-dressed and dressed. Let’s look at the distinction between dress shirts and sports shirts to make dressing appropriately very easy.  


Dress shirts tend to be more conservatively styled and colored than sports shirts. Meant to be worn with formal wear, they have stiffer collars that can withstand neckties underneath and suit jacket lapels on top. Solid white, light blue, and pale pink are popular colors for dress shirts. Designs are limited to a simple pinstripe or on occasion, a subtle check.

Sports shirts can be bolder and brighter with more patterns and designs. Pockets, decorative stitching, button-down collars, and epaulets are for sports shirts. Wearing untucked boxy button-down classifies as a sports shirt.     


Dress shirts are made from smooth, fine fabrics with a tight weave like twill or cotton broadcloth that often has a slight sheen. This adds to the dressiness of the shirt giving it a refined appearance.

A sports shirt is made of less formal material with a heavier thread and a much looser weave than the broadcloth used for dress shirts. Oxford cloth, linen, flannel, and other relaxed fabrics featuring stripes, large checks, and even contrasting colors are popular for sports shirts, which are more relaxed than dress shirts.  


Dress shirts generally have two measurements on the tag: neck and sleeve lengths. A typical example might be 15″ for the neck and 32″ for the sleeves. Sometimes European sizing is common for suit jacket and sport coat sizing. In this case, they note sizes as 36, 38, 40, and so on.

In contrast, the sizing of sports shirts is more general. Just like with t-shirts and outer jackets, they use Small, Medium, and Large.


Tailor a dress shirt. The collar should hug the neck comfortably, while the sleeves should end at the wrist bones. The result is a dressed-up, professional look without being too tight.

Sports shirts generally have a comfortable fit. Roll the sleeves up casually and the collar won’t be as stiff.

With both dress and sports shirts, there should be enough room in the neck, back, shoulders, and sleeves to fit comfortably, but not so much fabric that the shirt is blousy. A slight taper in the shirt’s body minimizes extra fabric without the buttons pulling. 


One of the biggest differences between dress and sports shirts is length. Meant to be tucked in, dress shirts are traditionally longer. That way, the shirt remains tucked in while the wearer is moving around. 

Wear untucked or tucked sports shirts since they have lower side seams and shorter shirttails. The shirt should hit not lower than the back pocket when you left it untucked.


While some dress shirts and sports shirts will be difficult to distinguish, each generally fits a few characteristics.

Dress Shirt Characteristics

  • Conservative style and coloring
  • Made with smooth, fine fabrics
  • Sized by neck and sleeve lengths
  • Close-fitting
  • Longer length

Sports Shirt Characteristics

  • Bolder, brighter colors with patterns or designs
  • Heavier thread, looser weave material
  • S, M, L, XL, and XXL sizing
  • Looser fit
  • Shorter shirttails

By keeping these differences in mind, you’ll always be dressed for the occasion.

Look Your Best With Family Britches

For expert advice on what to wear, contact Family Britches today. We offer:

  • Custom tailoring: Old-world craftsmen at Family Britches can help you make a lasting impression.
  • Made-to-measure clothing: Our exclusive made-to-measure selection of shirts, trousers, suits, sports coats, and ties helps you get the perfect fit every time.
  • Personal virtual assistant: To take the frustration and guesswork out of your closet, set up a wardrobe consultation with one of our expert personal virtual stylists either in-store or online. We will tailor coordinated wardrobe selections to your individual style preferences.

In men’s furnishings, we carry a wide selection of dress shirts and sports shirts to fit your style. Find dress shirts from ETON Contemporary, David Donahue, and Stenstroms, to name a few. Our extensive sports shirt line includes shirts from CANALI of Italy,  Billy Reid, Johnnie O, and more.

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