Not all shirts are made the same. Over the times you’ve online-shopped for work shirts (at your work desk, no less), you must have noticed terms like Oxford, Chambray, Flannel, Western or Poplin popping up in the product names.

They’re not marketing fluff to make the next buyer feel special, you dunce. They’re references to the make or the subtleties of the shirt that could draw the line between ‘dressed to impress’ and ‘dressed to depress’ – or worse, earn the boss’ side eye from hell.


Oxford

Let’s first get one thing out of the way: in case your life’s mission is an endless scholastic pursuit (most of us Singaporean sons should relate), wearing one such shirt is not going to fast-track your way to the famed university.

Which is fine, because Oxford shirts play a better role than you think; named after the thicker weave of fabric used in the construction (as opposed to your formal cotton shirts), it is one of the most versatile wardrobe must-haves to introduce discreet casualness to weekday corporate outfits.

To cut the long story short, every guy should buy at least one in different colours.

How else can you tell you’re buying an Oxford shirt: They’re noticeably buttoned down at the collars.

Office friendliness: 4/5

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Slim fit cotton Oxford shirt from Polo Ralph Lauren

Chambray

Think of it as Denim Lite. Chambray is a way of getting away with denim in lax-er offices without really wearing denim, or a way to escape putting up with the heftiness and heat of actual denim shirts or outerwear.    

How else can you tell you’re buying a Chambray shirt: You’d find that these shirts come in shades similar to your light washed jeans or deeper ones like indigo.

Office friendliness: 3/5

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Cotton Chambray shirt from Beams F

Poplin

There you go, your formal go-to-work shirts. Very likely what you’ve been stocking up on. Unlike Oxford and Chambray which reference themselves to the material, Poplin refers to the kind of weave in the shirt fabric. But what you really need to know here is that they’re really lightweight, has a silky luxe touch to it (if you’re a tactile man who finds comfort in touching silky luxe stuff) and creases more than you’re comfortable with. It’s the most fail-safe option for the Monday-to-Friday conventions, provided you iron the shit out of them.

How else can you tell you’re buying a Poplin shirt: If you’re shopping for one offline and it’s not specified in the product name, grab, crumple, bunch, squeeze, tug, pinch, rend – do whatever you need to and mess up the shirt and see if you can smooth out the creases by hand.

Office friendliness: 5/5  

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Slim fit cotton Poplin from Paul Smith

Flannel

Flannel almost always throw up these imageries: lumberjacks, Dad fit and checkered patterns. But stereotypes are stereotypes because they’re rooted in some truths. Flannels are the thickest of the lot in this article, albeit the softest; they offer big time comfort whether you’re getting your hands dirty in blue or white collar work. They’re cut a little looser to double as an overshirt against the AC. We’re not sure how the checks came about, but it is what it is: every damn flannel we ever came across came in some variation of plaid.  

How else can you tell you’re buying a Flannel shirt: You look like a lumberjack. Without the tree beard.

Office friendliness: 2/5

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Cotton Flannel shirt from J.Crew

Western

Saving you the history lesson on the wild, wild West but it’s basically a denim shirt with snap buttons.

How else can you call you’re buying a Western shirt: Snap buttons. On the chest pocket.

Office friendliness: 1/5

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Denim Western shirt from Levi’s