Dress shirts can be found in all manner of colours and patterns. While modern professional dress, allows professional men greater freedom to participate fashion trends and express their personal style, it is ultimately the man who errs on the conservative side who will be considered the most professional.
By far, the most formal and professional shirt colour is white. It has stood its ground for years providing men with a radiance that brightens the face and it looks wonderful on all men, especially those who have gray to white hair. The term ‘white collar' comes from a time when a white shirt was a status symbol indicating that the wearer worked in a profession free from dirt and sweat. It is important to wear the white that is best for your skin tone; bright white will be fabulous on some men and yet leave others looking insignificant.
Followed next in formality is the very light ice pastels; their lightness creates a great contrast between a suit and tie.
Medium colours follow, with blues taking the lead in the credibility stakes. The term ‘blue collar' comes from the days when the working man wore dark blue shirts to help hide the dirt. For the man who tends to have a five o'clock shadow at midday, medium to dark blue shirts should be avoided if he has an afternoon meeting and will not have time to shave. These tones of blue tend to exaggerate the amount of facial hair present.
Coloured or striped shirts with white collars give the wearer a distinguished look; however when matching cuffs are added the looks becomes slightly pretentious look and are best kept for dressy occasions.
Colours can be ranked from those considered the most formal for business to the least. This ranking comes from their known psychological impact.
The order is : White, Gray, Blue, Red, Purple, Yellow, Green, Brown and Orange.
Most colours can be found in depths from light to dark. The closer the colour is to white the more formal /business-like the resulting appearance.
All colours can be placed anywhere on a continuum between ‘clear' i.e., crisp, bright, clean and ‘muted' i.e., dull, grayed, dusty in appearance. Dress shirts with a clear clarity portray a formal /business-like appearance and are associated with alertness, youth and clear mindedness. Dull colours are associated with the opposite attributes.
The following is a table of dress shirt colours and where they sit on the Business to Casual continuum.