Review: Dress Shirt Design

Today we have another guest entry from Stu Friedberg (who wrote the thread and needle entries) with his review of the book Dress Shirt Design. Thanks Stu!
This book is a visual reference to over a thousand (my estimate), styling features for shirts, organized into chapters by part of the garment. The book begins with collars, and carries on through plackets, pockets, shoulder seams and armholes, short sleeves, long sleeve cuffs and cuff plackets, back yokes and garment shaping, and finally ending up with bottom hems and vents. While the book description suggests semi-formal menswear, the content is much broader than that, with lots of informal features.

This is a very well produced book, mechanically well-made with a consistent, clear page design. Most pages have either six or nine computer-rendered line drawings, all drawn to the same size and using the same conventions for line weight. If you are a fan of Tufte, the simple black on white layout will please you (samples above and below). Others may be bored to tears by the lack of fabric swatches and “painterly” renditions. Where relevant to the style, bias is indicated in the drawings by small red accents. There is very limited use of shading to clarify pleating and folds, and to indicate trim/contrast material.

Scattered throughout the book are more conventional illustrations in various media, by the author and guest contributors. I find some of the author’s own illustrations a bit primitive, although some are well done. The guest illustrations are all nicely done.

There is very little prose in this book. Each drawing of a styling feature has a caption; each chapter has some introductory text, which is sometimes quite limited. This really is a visual reference book. There are no construction details or drafts in this book, so it will be most helpful for the designer, not the patternmaker.

That brings me around to a discussion of the actual content. There are some drawings which are clearly wrong (twisted placket on page 49), or suspect/inconsistent (stitching detail on overlapped notched cuff drawing and the illustration above on page 100), or deserving of more clarity (hidden button placket drawings on page 109, or the many drawings which are apparently of continuous lap plackets). But those are nitpicks.

There are a very few things I don’t believe can be made at all, at least without some truly critical seams not shown in the drawings. The one that leapt out at me is page 81, where the shirt sleeve looks raglan from the back (front) but set-in from the front (back). The raglan back example has the shirt front and sleeve cut all in a single piece. Even if you assume this could be pattern-drafted (I would have to see it worked out to be convinced), the allocation is going to blow chunks, and the grain will be some horrible non-pure bias angle in the sleeve. And I can’t think of any way to transition from the (assumed) flat felling of the (continuous) raglan and set-in seams to the “free” end of the seam (which just ends in the middle of the cloth) and give the (drawn) neat tuck/fold at the end of the seam.

Lest you get the wrong impression, the vast majority of illustrations are reasonably, consistently, and accurately rendered. As you would expect, all the basic styles are presented and the number of variations is substantial and sometimes a little surprising. If the book has a weakness, it is in shirt details prior to 1950. Only “classic” elements that have shown up in contemporary menswear are included. So you won’t find the 18 different named collar variants offered by the Arrow Shirt Company. Since the author has been putting together her sketchbooks for only the last ten years, that is understandable.

On to matters of taste. This book illustrates in multiple diagrams styling features I would never consider. For example, exposed raw fabric edges (clearly not for _dress_ shirts!). Or small cutaway notches just large enough to expose a button with a fabric loop closure (I suspect that feature is never going to look as neat on a real person as in a drawing). But this is more good than bad. The value of a book like this is broaden one’s vocabulary, not reinforce it.

Does this book provide eighty dollars worth of broadening? Not unconditionally. If I were producing a line heavy in non-traditional shirts, I think it would be a very useful style reference and pay for itself if even two or three new styles benefited from its stimulation. If you aren’t doing shirts or shirt-like garments, very little would be applicable. And if you are doing only traditional shirts, you don’t need this book because your styles are already tightly constrained by customer expectation.

And it’s not the only book of this type. The Design Detail Book: Necklines, Collars, Lapels, covers the same general territory. I haven’t seen the book, so can’t make a direct comparison. However, the sample pages available suggest the Dress Shirt Design book covers a narrower territory (shirt parts) in greater depth (two or three times as many example features).

Dress Shirt Design by Malie Rael
Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Atglen, Pennsylvania
2007 ISBN 978-0-7643-2723-0
156 pages, hardbound, slightly oversized (over 9″ by 12″). Cover price $79.95 but my review copy was purchased through for $45 (price listed today is $105.46). The publisher sells direct (MSRP, $79.95), and Amazon has it for $58.10.

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