For classic men’s style, expressions are often in the tiniest of tiny details. Closed eyelets on shoes express formality, cuffs on trousers express casualness, and structured shoulders give a sense of rigidity and authority.
The details of a button up shirt are just as expressive. The length of your collar points, shape of your collar, and cut of your cuffs all hold certain meanings. I’ll cover those some other time, but today I’ll discuss something you may not have considered – plackets and pockets.
A placket is that extra piece of material at the front of the shirt where the buttonholes are placed. It’s usually created by folding the shirt’s material onto the front, or by sewing a separate piece of material onto this area. This design not only helps give support and strength to the opening of the shirt, where most stress is placed, but it also creates a visual center when the shirt is buttoned. Most shirts you’ve seen (and almost certainly the one you’re wearing right now) have plackets.
The alternative is the French front (also known as the “plain center”). Here the material is folded to the underside of the shirt so that it’s not visible. It is then secured by the stitching on the buttonholes.
There’s no right or wrong way to choose between these details, but you should know what effect each will have. Getting a shirt without a placket or pocket, like the shirt above, will look cleaner, and since simplicity tends towards formality, it will also be dressier. A shirt with a placket and pocket, then, will conversely be a bit more causal.
I also find that shirts without plackets and pockets look more Continental European, while shirts with these details look more American. As such, you should choose shirts that most accords with your personal sense of style. I happen to favor shirts without them, as I like dressier, tailored Italian clothes, but someone who likes a more casual American style should get shirts with these details.
However you choose, note that some shirts should be made in certain ways. An oxford cloth button down, for example, is inherently casual and very American, so I think it looks best with a placket and pocket. If you want it to be even more American, you get the pocket with a flap, like this. This design detail was invented by J. Press and has since been strongly associated with the trad/ Ivy League crowd. Again, it’s all about knowing what these details mean and choosing accordingly.