Non-Iron Shirts Vs. Regular Shirts

Shirts that you don’t need to iron have been around in some form or another since the 1950s. In those days the shirts were either polyester, or a cotton/polyester blend. Since about the 1990s, however, 100% cotton shirts that were treated with a special anti-wrinkle chemical cocktail have been incredibly popular and make up the vast majority of shirt sales of large menswear companies such as Brooks Brothers and Charles Tyrwhitt.

Often on internet forums you’ll see menswear enthusiasts scoff at non-iron shirts. They’ll say that they are uncomfortable and that they don’t breathe. They’ll say the natural wrinkles that occur on a regular, must-iron shirt is part of its charm.

Non-iron shirts, they’ll say, are for the tacky cubicle drones in their matching tie-and-pocket-square sets and square-toed shoes.

But you already know that’s not true.

There is a definitely a place in every man’s wardrobe for non-iron shirts. The key is to know exactly how to make them work for you.

There are two instances in which I find non-iron shirts useful. If I am wearing formal or business wear, like a full suit and tie, or even a sport coat, tie, and worsted wool trousers, then I usually opt for a non-iron shirt. Why? Well, when I want to look really polished, I like the fact that I don’t have to worry about wrinkles in my shirt. A crisp suit deserves a crisp shirt, and even though I don’t mind ironing shirts, I can never really get ALL the wrinkles out of a regular, must-iron shirt. With an oxford-cloth button-down I plan on wearing with a tweed jacket and chinos, or with a sweater and jeans, it doesn’t really matter all that much if the shirt is a little wrinkled. But when I’m tying a fat silk tie and attaching cufflinks, I want my shirt to be immaculate. It’s just a different vibe.

Also, if I am traveling, it’s incredibly convenient to simply fold a non-iron shirt, place it in my weekender bag and then have a nice, fresh shirt ready for me when I need it once I have arrived at my destination. I did this recently when my wife and I were visiting my in-laws and we had a date night planned (while my in-laws watched our kids). Sure, I had a couple OCBDs packed, but I wanted to dress up a little more so a more formal shirt was in order. It was nice to be able to just shake out the shirt and have it ready to go. Convenient!

So, non-iron shirts are great for when you need to dust off your Sunday best or if you need a crisp shirt when traveling.

Pretty much any other time, though, I go with a regular, must-iron shirt. Most of the time I wear OCBDs and that includes hanging out at home, running errands around town, or visiting the office. My office attire is strictly business-casual so a full suit or even a jacket-and-tie would be a bit too much. When going into the office, I always opt for a sport coat and OCBD with or without a sweater, depending on the weather.

Basically, if I don’t care about the wrinkles, I’ll wear a regular, must-iron shirt. If I really need to dress to impress, I’ll wear a non-iron shirt.

Here’s the thing about non-iron shirts, though. I don’t really care about them all that much. Even though I wear them during memorable events (like date nights with my wife) or high-stakes circumstances (like interviews), I never really develop any attachment to them the way I do with my OCDBs. Maybe because I don’t really live in them the same way as I do with my OCBDs. Who knows?

With all that being said, what are some of the drawbacks of a non-iron shirt? Well, for one, the breathability argument holds water. A non-iron shirt isn’t as comfortable in hot weather as a regular shirt. You’ll find that if you sweat, it won’t wick away quite as well in a non-iron shirt.

The solution? Wear an undershirt. I find a thin, cotton undershirt helps the breathability issue.

Another drawback to a non-iron shirt is that it will never look quite as lived-in and comfortable as a regular shirt. It will always look stiff, sterile and business-like. That is certainly desirable in certain situations, but a non-iron shirt won’t really “break in”. It will never really feel like you. The white, non-iron shirt you wear to the office isn’t going to be the shirt your wife or girlfriend borrows in the morning. That will be your well-worn, frayed OCBD that smells like you even after it’s been through a hot wash and dry.

My advice is to have a handful of non-iron shirts in your wardrobe. Have two in white (one with regular cuffs and one with French cuffs). Have another in pale blue. If you wear suits a lot, then grab a white and blue Bengal stripe. I advise you to get them in a moderate, spread collar.

These shirts will cover any circumstances when you will need a perfectly crease-free shirt.

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