Shirt Pockets


I’ve recently been wrestling with the issue of shirt pockets.

There does seem to be something of a transatlantic divide on this issue. Reading most of the forum chit chat, Uncle Sam’s men seem in the majority to favour breast pockets, while Europeans and particularly Englishmen abstain. Like many things in the world of menswear there is a certain amount of silliness and snobbery to endure on the issue – in the main focussed against those that favour the pocket.

There appears to be no hard and fast rule on the matter, although the shirts evolution from its simple linen origin was certainly minus pocket. The innovation of a pocket is widely attributed to Brooks Brothers when they first added one to their button down shirt in 1960s, although the button down itself dates back to 1896. Since Brooks Brothers’ innovation many illustrious British shirt makers have followed suit, despite the hostility, currently placing breast pockets on their single cuff shirts, presumably regarding them as less formal and more sporty.

Personally, I cannot abide pockets on shirts. The first reason, in terms of ready to wear shirts, is I’m yet to find a pocket set at the right level on shirt front. Either too high or too low, too close to the shoulder or too near the waist, the aesthetic has never quite work for me. I’ve also found that they serve no useful purpose. Sunglasses should either be on your face or can just as easily be tucked down the front of the shirt, supported by the second button. Under a jacket it’s pointless to place anything in the pocket as you’ll destroy the lines of your jacket, not to mention the fact you have better suited pockets for carrying kit, in which case what do you need a shirt pocket for? And on a purely aesthetic note, I much prefer the crisp clean look of an uncluttered shirt front in both its formal or casual form.

This directly relates to starting my own label, a project I’m slowly working towards. As I made clear recently, I want to offer a small range of formal and semi-formal shirts. First on the list is a true soft roll collar, button down oxford. Authenticity matters, and given the expectation that such a shirt should have a pocket do I make good on my goal or back my own instincts…


  1. Rip said:

    Breast pockets on formal shirts look wrong to me. They’re a feature more suited to a ‘work’ shirt like a short-sleeved shirt worn by engineers and lumberjack shirts. With a formal shirt for the office, there’s no purpose to it and it does spoil the look of the front.

    October 1, 2010
  2. Jayne Sniller said:

    You write with such eloquence and lucidity. Whereas other writers simply present the facts, you manage to entertain, delight and inform. Kudos.
    And I certainly agree about the Jos A. suit.

    October 1, 2010
  3. Rakkish said:

    Properly, pockets should not be on dress shirts, but they emerged in the 1960s as a place to put cigarettes while walking around the office (i.e., with your jacket off). A cigarette box is, well, too boxy for trouser pockets, and the best alternative is the small, box-shaped breast pocket.

    I am a smoker and I’ve come to ordering breast pockets — despite my tailor’s protests — for precisely this reason. I know it’s wrong, but so is smoking in the first place, and the whole thing comes off as a little devil-may-care.

    October 1, 2010
  4. Alan said:

    I’m with Rip, but I follow what Rakkish is saying.

    It seems to me that one should use it or lose it.

    October 2, 2010
  5. prairie_oysters said:

    Bugger a breast pocket, even on a button-down. The collar on this shirt sported by the late great Tony Curtis is near perfect and no breast pocket. The double cuff is a bit of a quirk paired with an informal collar – a sign of the times I guess. Perhaps you should offer a pocket free button-down with an optional embroidered monogram!

    October 2, 2010
  6. David V said:

    But where would my dad have kept his Luckies?

    October 2, 2010
  7. Kurt N said:

    There are in fact no better pockets for reading glasses, or a pen–or sunglasses, which if tucked in the shirt front are too prone to falling out. These are good reasons to have a shirt pocket for a sporty shirt, which may be expected to have other functional details such as a button-down collar. Dress shirts are a whole different topic.

    October 3, 2010
  8. Eric Bennett said:

    If you are considering your own line of formal shirts, may I suggest adding the option of an eyelet collar to your selection? I rather like the idea of wearing a collar bar with a vested suit but have not, despite all my efforts, found anyone online or in my immediate vicinity who makes one. If you do I will be your first customer!

    October 3, 2010
  9. Wendy said:

    On a dress shirt I would say pockets are a definite no. But on a business shirt or casual shirt I think they are acceptable.

    I know my hubby will only buy a shirt if it has 1 breast pocket. He has to use eye drops constantly, and that is the best place to carry them.

    October 4, 2010
  10. Helen said:

    Breast pockets on formal shirts under the age of 60 should be restricted. On casual shirts, however, the more details – the better. And breast pockets are definitely one of them.

    October 8, 2010
  11. Chet said:

    How about a choice?

    I like French Cuff shirts on occasion, yet I do not always wear a suit or a blazer…and even when I do, my chair wears the jacket more than I do.

    I also need a place for a pen. Not a dozen pens and pencils in some ludicrous geek protector, just one very nice thin sterling pen that I use pretty much every day.

    Brooks Brothers has taken the pocket off all their better shirts including those with French cuffs.

    After 15 years, I need to find another place to buy shirts.

    Personally, I don’t think it had anything to do with style. I think it had to do with cost. Take the material in one pocket and multiply it by 50,000 shirts. That’s suddenly a lot of material.

    Just a damned stupid move.

    October 30, 2010
  12. Ian said:

    Breast pockets have their uses (mall parking tickets, or a wallet, for example) but the pocket is in the wrong place. It should be on the left *side* (ie same vertical plane as your arm) of the shirt, low down, preferably with a button flap. Putting it there out of the way avoids bulk on the chest and it will be completely hidden under a jacket.

    November 20, 2010

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