Hey, you! With the shirt that's all wrinkled up and billowing out like a sail in a strong wind! Want a tip on how to look good? Shirt stays, my man.
Wanna look sharp? Use shirt stays. Tired of your shirt coming untucked when you sit down? Use shirt stays. Got an interview? Wearing a suit? Wanna look like a million buck? You got it - use shirt stays!
Shirt stays are something I take for granted. I learned about them from the retired Marine instructor of my Junior Reserve Officer Training Course (JROTC) in high school and have used them ever since. I joined the military (shirt stays practically a must use) a short while after high school and it wasn't until I was in college at age 25 that I realized - most men don't know what a shirt stay is!
These “kids” wear wearing their slacks and button shirts, but looked like they slept in what they were wearing! At first, I chalked it up to young kids not giving a “care” and moved on. It wasn’t until I was doing a panel discussion one day when a fellow male student asked me, "How do you get your shirt to stay ironed even after you sit down?"
At first, I didn’t know what he was talking about. My mind digested his inquiry as literal: Silly kid, you can’t iron a shirt you are wearing… Ohhh! The light bulb went off and I realized that because of my shirt stays, every time I stood up, my shirt was instantly pulled down, removing any sign of wrinkles.
“Shirt stays,” I say.
“Shirt whats?” he replies. I tilt my head slightly to the side the way a dog does when it hears a strange noise. How can he not know what a shirt stay is? I pull up the cloth on the right pant leg to reveal my shirt stay.
“This thing,” snapping it to emphasize the device. He shook his head left and right - he had never seen one! And thus began the teaching of the young mind on the gloriousness that is the shirt stay.
Why Use Shirt Stays
In a word: Professionalism.
Looking sharp is universally associated with competence and professionalism. Studies even show that dressing well changes the way you think - you think more abstractly and increases perspective! (https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/minds-business/when-clothing-style-influences-cognitive-style.html#.WTmBucaZNBw) That old adage, “You only have one chance to make a first impression,” is true - and it is becoming more and more important as our lives become faster and faster paced.
Shirt stays can also make clothing more comfortable as it helps keep your shirt (and sometimes your socks) in the right place, rather than bunching up and being a nuisance. You don’t have to starch a shirt as much with a shirt stay if you have a reasonable amount on tension, it helps “pull” creases away. Shirt stays also help you with posture and core engagement. No, seriously. If you have your shirt stay balanced, you can tell when you are slouching when standing or when you relax your core and let your stomach “hang out.”
Which Type to Purchase
There are different styles of stays - single stays, stirrup stays, clasp stays, garter stays, two lead and three lead, cross lead…. Take my advice, if you are going to get only one type of stay, get these:
I wore these in the military and I wear them in the office. The stirrup style means I can wear them with any sock, pant or shoe style. If your shirt doesn’t need to be laundered, just slip the stirrup off and hang the shirt. Next time you wear it, slip the stirrup on and button up! The plastic grips on the clasps prevent damage to your shirts and you can adjust the strength of the grip by bending (ever so gently) the clasp piece with a set of plyers.
If you are worried about the shirt stay showing when you pant leg rises, you could instead go with these:
These will also act as sock garters to keep your socks pulled up snuggly, preventing saggy socks and raw heels.
How to Use Shirt Stays
To attach the stays, take one shirt stay and set the clasps on the shirt first. On the shirt, clip one clasp about a hands’ width forward of the shirt’s side seam and the other about a hands’ width behind the side seam. The side seam runs from your armpit to the bottom edge of the shirt. Using the ones I recommend above, you should now have a “Y” shape when you let the shirt stay hang down, the tail of the “Y” hanging along the outside edge of your thigh. Repeat attaching the remaining stay on the other side of the shirt. Once attached, pull firmly (not a jerk, but a tug) down on the clasps to make sure they are holding the shirt correctly. If they slip off, you can increase the grip by gently bending the arm as shown above.
Now attach the bottom of the stay. With the stirrups, you slip them on your feet like a sock with the band resting in the arch of your foot. If using clasps, attach the clasp to the outside of the sock. Give those a firm tug. If they come off, adjust as needed to get a solid grip. Stand up. The stays should be pulling the shirt down, gathering any excess material toward the outside of your hips while making the front and back look smooth. If you don’t have any of that, maybe you don't have any tension!
To set the tension (how hard it tugs the shirt) of the stay you need to for the buckle. On my recommended stays, there is a little metal buckle that grips the stay when flat and releases the stay when you lift it up. Some fancy styles have buttons, others have snap fittings. Move the stay tension buckle up or down until you find the stays are tugging comfortably on the shirt. I wear mine with enough tension that I can feel it lightly in my shoulders - you find what works for you through trial and error. The higher the tension, the “crisper” the shirt will look, but the more “unnatural” the shirt will feel. Also, if you go too high with the tension you risk having the clasps work loose no matter how much you bend the clasp for gripping strength. Too little and you might as well not wear the shirt stays….
Finally, put on your pants! Stand up and check that the stays are working. Bend to your left at the waist, then straighten up. Did the shirt go flat or did it just bunch up? If it bunched up, you need more tension. Sit down, stand up. Did the back of the shirt “retuck” itself? Good, you have it set right.
Dad's Secret Fashion Tip
So there you have it. The “secret” of sharply dressed professionals everywhere! You can use these on any tucked shirt and I promise you the difference is night and day.
Oh, one last thing - if you wear an undershirt (which I highly suggest) tuck the undershirt into your underwear, then your dress shirt over your underwear inside your pants.