Dry Cleaners' Guide: Dress Shirts That Last!

Posted by: Bill Rothrock, CGCP
Posted: Jan 17, 2022

Every day at Yale Cleaners, we clean, starch and press several thousand men’s dress shirts. Over the years this adds up to hundreds of thousands of shirts processed. Some shirts we only press once, while others will be cleaned numerous times. But did you know, manufacturers design and construct shirts to only withstand being worn about 35 times? Their intended purpose is for a shirt to be worn every other week for about a year. I tell you this not to boast about how many shirts we clean, nor how long you should wear a garment, but rather to express the importance of selecting the right shirt that best fits your specific needs.

So, the question becomes… What’s the best shirt for me?

This is a question I wish I heard more often! I take great pride in how nice a shirt looks fresh off the press. But no matter how hard we try, some shirts just refuse to look good. With thousands of different brands in today’s market, it becomes very hard to make an informed choice. Consumers are left to base their decision on budget, style, price, fit or even what their favorite celebrity wears. While these are important factors to include in your purchasing decision, serviceability (i.e. how many times it can be cleaned pressed and worn, before it looks worn) should not be overlooked.

For the past 33 years, I have spent 6 days a week inside the back of a dry cleaning plant. From that experience, I can tell you all shirts are NOT created equal. This doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of $$$$ to get a stylish shirt with a long life cycle. Below you will find my list of great shirts for the individual on a budget, shirts for the trendsetting hipster or shirts for anyone else in between.

Without a doubt the best shirt on a budget is JCPenney’s Stafford line. These shirts start at just $25.00 and their 80% cotton / 20% polyester construction makes them built to last. Their low price point, classic style and long life cycle make them a good choice for anyone’s wardrobe.

For those guys that want to wear the latest trend without breaking the bank, I highly recommend looking at Banana Republic. This line starts around $80 but can often be found on sale for less. It’s a great option for those individuals who want to make a fashionable impression in a well-constructed shirt.

No Budget? Thomas Pink and Rufs are without a doubt my favorite brands. These lines are constructed with some of the highest quality fabric on the market. The shirts are built to last and never go out of style. Unfortunately, these brands are not sold in the Tulsa area and can only be purchased online or in a bigger city. That being said, Robert Graham is another designer brand with a good serviceability that can be found at a few retailers locally.

Although I don’t dress the part, I’ve wrangled enough western wear to know which brands cowboys can depend on. Week in and week out, Cinch brand shirts are a cowboy’s best bet to withstand heavy starch and his rugged lifestyle.

Over the years, I have definitely come across a few brands of shirts that would never find in my closet. No matter the price point, Roundtree & Yorke is not a wise decision. I see way too many of these shirts with interfacing problems. Inevitably the interfacing will shrink, causing the shirt to pucker. Once this occurs, the shirt becomes almost impossible to clean, press and restore to wearable condition. Another brand I avoid buying is Van Heusen. Their shirts contain too much polyester which causes it to lose color and fade after just a few cycles.

I could go on and on about which shirts are the best value for your hard earned dollar but that would probably bore you. Please check out my list of favorite and least favorite shirt makers below. This isn’t the be all, end all of lists. It’s just the brands I have found to be consistently good or bad over my many years in the dry cleaning industry.

Before you grab a shirt off the rack, take a closer look to insure it was made by a brand that will live up to your expectations.

Rating:
Price:
Brand

Thomas Pink

Yale's Rating
Price $ $ $ $
Shirt Level High End
This is a conservative dress shirt that is very comfortable to wear. It has high quality construction that maintains its look and shape even after several wash cycles. It is a bit on the expensive side, but well worth the money. GQ magazine says, "every man should own at least one."
Brand

Propercloth

Yale's Rating
Price $ $ $ $
Shirt Level High End
Propercloth is an online custom shirt company that is relatively new to the market. The company starts by asking a series of questions about your build, style, and comfort level to create a profile. Once your profile is established, you pick the style of shirt and then the material. Your custom shirt is then made to order and ships to your front door. So far, I have only seen a few of these shirts come through my plant. However, I really like how the shirt performs in the cleaning process. The shirts overall construction appears to be impeccable. If you choose to buy this shirt, I suggest picking a heavier weight material for longevity. This is currently GQ magazines "favorite" shirt.
Brand

Theory

Yale's Rating
Price $ $ $ $
Shirt Level High End
A conservative dress shirt for the refined gentlemen. Excellent construction from the stitching to the materials used. This shirt has an athletic cut and is designed with comfort in mind.
Brand

Hugo Boss

Yale's Rating
Price $ $ $ $
Shirt Level High End
German engineered, and just like a German car, this shirt is built to exacting standards! This is an excellent shirt that is well worth the purchase price.
Brand

Thomas Dean

Yale's Rating
Price $ $ $
Shirt Level High End
Excellent quality shirt that competes with Hugo Boss. Built for comfort and function.
Brand

Robert Graham

Yale's Rating
Price $ $ $
Shirt Level Mid Level
This is the shirt that makes a statement! This high-quality shirt boasts enormous popularity for its styling and quality. I highly recommend this shirt to all my friends and family. (Please note, if you like starch, make sure you check the label for silk. Some Robert Graham shirts contain silk and cannot be starched.)
Brand

Chaps

Yale's Rating
Price $ $
Shirt Level Mid Level
Chaps is a mid-level shirt that is durable and holds up very well in the cleaning process. Great everyday shirt, especially when found on sale. Comparable to Izod brand.
Brand

Izod

Yale's Rating
Price $ $
Shirt Level Mid Level
Izod is a mid-level shirt that is durable and holds up very well in the cleaning process. Great everyday shirt, especially when found on sale. Comparable to Chaps brand.
Brand

Express

Yale's Rating
Price $ $
Shirt Level Mid Level
Mid-level fashion shirt. This shirt holds up longer than expected for its construction type. Athletic cut shirt that is a great buy for those who are fashion conscious.
Brand

Ralph Lauren

Yale's Rating
Price $ $ $
Shirt Level Mid Level
This was a great shirt in the 80's and it's still a great shirt today. Oh, the days of a polo golf shirt, collar flipped up and a plaid polo button down over it with stone washed jeans. I'm reminded of that every time I pass a Ralph Lauren display. The only issue these shirts have ever had, is with the button-down collars. The collar buttons don't last forever. Eventually a hole develops after the buttons have been replaced repeatedly.
Brand

Banana Republic

Yale's Rating
Price $
Shirt Level Mid Level
Banana Republic shirts have gone through many transformations since the early 2000's. Overall, they have been a great preforming shirt. Long gone are the buttons too thick to holdup in commercial laundering. This is one of the better buys at the price point. I believe it's a mid-level shirt.
Brand

Cremieux

Yale's Rating
Price $ $
Shirt Level Mid Level
Mid-level relaxed fit shirt, great for casual dress Fridays. A great choice when buying a linen shirt. (life expectancy for linen is much lower than that of cotton. You should only expect 1 or 2 seasons from linen shirts.)
Brand

Calvin Klein

Yale's Rating
Price $ $ $
Shirt Level Mid Level
This mid-level shirt is made by Van Heusen. It usually contains high levels of polyester for durability. The down side to shirts that contain polyester over 20% is the difficulty in removing oils. This is most noticeable when the oils from your skin develop into a "the ring around the collar." Over the long term the collar on this shirt will shrink and become tight around your neck.
Brand

Roundtree & Yorke Gold Label

Yale's Rating
Price $ $
Shirt Level Mid Level
Initially when this shirt came out they addressed all the major issues of the original Roundtree & Yorke shirt. However, as time has passed, the initial redesign of the shirt has not stayed true. Although the shirt does last a little bit longer than its predecessor, it eventually has the same interfacing issues (binding material inside the cuffs, collar, and along button holes) used in construction shrinks faster than the shirt fabric. The premature shrinking causes visible puckering in the cuffs, collar, and along button holes. This problem cannot be fixed, and the shirts appearance will become objectionable to most people. I cannot recommend this shirt brand.
Brand

Joseph Abboud

Yale's Rating
Price $ $ $
Shirt Level Mid Level
Average quality shirt made by the Van Heusen Company. The initial quality is good, however, the interfacing (binding material inside the cuffs, collar, and along button holes) used in construction shrinks faster than the shirt fabric. The premature shrinking causes visible puckering in the cuffs, collar, and along button holes. This problem cannot be fixed, and the shirt's appearance will become objectionable to most people. For the price, I expect a longer usable life. This brand is not recommended.
Brand

Pronto Uomo

Yale's Rating
Price $ $ $
Shirt Level Mid Level
Average quality shirt made by the Men's Warehouse. The initial quality is good, however, the interfacing (binding material inside the cuffs, collar, and along button holes) used in construction shrinks faster than the shirt fabric. The premature shrinking causes visible puckering in the cuffs, collar, and along button holes. This problem cannot be fixed, and the shirt's appearance will become objectionable to most people. For the price, I expect a longer usable life. This brand is not recommended.
Brand

Jos A Banks

Yale's Rating
Price $ $ $
Shirt Level Mid Level
Average quality shirt made by Men's Warehouse. Initial quality is good, however the interfacing (binding material inside the cuffs, collar, and along button holes) used in construction shrinks faster than the shirt fabric. The premature shrinking causes visible puckering in the cuffs, collar, and along button holes. This problem cannot be fixed, and the shirt's appearance will become objectionable to most people. For the price, I expect a longer usable life. This brand is not recommended.
Brand

Steven Azzolina

Yale's Rating
Price $ $
Shirt Level Mid Level
Average quality shirt. Initial quality is good, however, the interfacing (binding material inside the cuffs, collar, and along button holes) used in construction shrinks faster than the shirt fabric. The premature shrinking causes visible puckering in the cuffs, collar, and along button holes. This problem cannot be fixed, and the shirt's appearance will become objectionable to most people. For the price, I expect a longer usable life. This brand is not recommended.
Brand

Stafford

Yale's Rating
Price $
Shirt Level Entry Level
This is by far the best entry-level shirt. This shirt is for a man who is on a budget, but needs to wear a dress shirt every day. It is limited to very conservative colors and patterns. Stafford shirts not only stand the test of time, but the rigors of daily life and cleanings. In my experience, Stafford shirts can last 8 plus years and over 200 cleanings! For the money, nothing competes with this shirt!
Brand

J Ferrar

Yale's Rating
Price $
Shirt Level Entry Level
Entry-level fashion shirt. This shirt holds up longer than expected for its construction type. Athletic cut shirt that is a great buy for those who are fashion conscious.
Brand

St John's Bay

Yale's Rating
Price $
Shirt Level Entry Level
Entry-level casual dress shirt. This shirt has great styling, can be worn with shorts and flip flops to jeans or dress pants. If Charlie Sheen wanted a casual shirt on a budget, this would be his go to shirt. In my opinion, St John's Bay shirts have a long life span.
Brand

Geoffrey Beene

Yale's Rating
Price $
Shirt Level Entry Level
This entry-level shirt is made by Van Heusen. It usually contains high levels of polyester for durability. The down side to shirts that contain polyester over 20% is the difficulty in removing oils. This is most noticeable when the oils from your skin develop into a "the ring around the collar". Over long-term use, the collar on this shirt will shrink and become tight around your neck.
Brand

Arrow

Yale's Rating
Price $
Shirt Level Entry Level
This entry-level shirt is made by Van Heusen. It usually contains high levels of polyester for durability. The down side to shirts that contain polyester over 20% is the difficulty in removing oils. This is most noticeable when the oils from your skin develop into a "the ring around the collar." Over long-term use, the collar on this shirt will shrink and become tight around your neck.
Brand

Van Huesen

Yale's Rating
Price $
Shirt Level Entry Level
This entry-level shirt has been around since the 1900's. It usually contains high levels of polyester for durability. The down side to shirts that contain polyester over 20% is the difficulty in removing oils. This is most noticeable when the oils from your skin develop into a "the ring around the collar." Over long term use, the collar on this shirt will shrink and become tight around your neck.
Brand

1mx Express

Yale's Rating
Price $ $
Shirt Level Entry Level
Entry-level fashion shirt. Athletic cut shirt that is a great buy for those that are fashion conscious Entry-level fashion shirt. However, the interfacing (binding material inside the cuffs, collar, and along button holes) used in construction shrinks faster than the shirt fabric. The premature shrinking causes visible puckering in the cuffs, collar, and along button holes. This problem cannot be fixed, and the shirt's appearance will become objectionable to most people. I would recommend spending the extra $10 for the original Express brand shirt.
Brand

Apt9

Yale's Rating
Price $
Shirt Level Entry Level
This is an entry-level shirt with below average quality. Apt9 is designed to last about a year and unfortunately, that's all you should expect. Typically, the first signs of age are the cuffs fraying. This middle of the road shirt should only get consideration if it's found on sale.
Brand

Croft & Barrow

Yale's Rating
Price $
Shirt Level Entry Level
This is an entry-level shirt with below average quality. Croft & Barrow's shirt is designed to last about a year and unfortunately, that's all you should expect. Typically, the first signs of age are the cuffs fraying. This middle of the road shirt should only get consideration if it's found on sale.
Brand

Roundtree & Yorke

Yale's Rating
Price $
Shirt Level Entry Level
Entry-level shirt that is known for significant interfacing issues (binding material inside the cuffs, collar, and along button holes). The interfacing used in construction shrinks faster than the shirt fabric. The premature shrinking causes visible puckering in the cuffs, collar, and along button holes. This problem cannot be fixed, and the shirt's appearance will become objectionable to most people. Although the initial appearance of the shirt looks richer than its competitor (Stafford) it quickly loses its initial luster. In my opinion, this shirt doesn't compare. Overpriced for the quality.
Brand

Eagle

Yale's Rating
Price $
Shirt Level Entry Level
Entry-level shirt. Initial quality is good, however, the interfacing (binding material inside the cuffs, collar, and along button holes) used in construction shrinks faster than the shirt fabric. The premature shrinking causes visible puckering in the cuffs, collar, and along button holes. This problem cannot be fixed, and the shirt's appearance will become objectionable to most people. This brand is not recommended.
Brand

Wrangler 20x

Yale's Rating
Price $
Shirt Level Western
Western wear built for the rodeo or just working your land. Shirts that last unless you get caught in a mess of barbwire.
Brand

Wrangler George Straight

Yale's Rating
Price $ $
Shirt Level Western
If George put his name on it, you know it's got to be good!
Brand

Panhandle

Yale's Rating
Price $
Shirt Level Western
Entry-level shirt that is budget friendly. This everyday western shirt not only stands the test of time, but the rigors of daily life and cleanings. I've got customers with this shirt that can't tell me what decade it was purchased.
Brand

Wrangler Short Sleeve Snap

Yale's Rating
Price $
Shirt Level Western
Made of polyester so it's durable, but it won't hold enough starch to make most cowboys happy. A great price point, but the snaps tend to break during commercial laundering. It's a great shirt, if you know its limitations.
Brand

Cinch

Yale's Rating
Price $ $
Shirt Level Western
Another good western style shirt that stands up well over time. On rare occasion, this shirt can experience premature dry rot. (the material loses tensile strength and rips easily)
Brand

Ariat

Yale's Rating
Price $ $
Shirt Level Western
Initial quality is great, however, the interfacing (binding material inside the cuffs, collar, and along button holes) used in construction shrinks faster than the shirt fabric. The premature shrinking causes visible puckering in the cuffs, collar, and along button holes. This problem cannot be fixed, and the shirt's appearance will become objectionable to most people.

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