Most quality shirts are 100% cotton, but that doesn’t mean a small percentage of man-made fibres is necessarily bad – they tend to help with the durability and stretch of the shirt – but anything more than 5-10% man-made fibre is a sign of cheap manufacturing and not skilled labour. You can usually tell good quality just by feeling the fabric but if you don’t have an eye for quality, take a look at the inside label for fabric percentages.
It’s fairly easy to spot quality stitching once you know the signs to look out for, and especially when you place a badly stitched item next to a quality one. Firstly, and most obviously, the stitching should be neat and clean, there should be no loops, which means the stitching is loose and will fray easily, and there shouldn’t be any loose strands anywhere on the garment. Seams around the shoulder should be thicker for easy shoulder movement, and there should be stitching to support the back (the yoke, more on this later…).
Buttons on a shirt should be stitched on securely, try giving them a little pull (but not too much of one) to ensure they are securely fastened. If they feel loose and easy to pull away, chances are they’ve been sewn on haphazardly (and probably in a sweatshop).
Plastic buttons are usually used on cheaper shirts, mother of pearl buttons are normally a sign of better quality and they are cross-stitched to keep them secure.
Stripes and Print
If you are looking stripey shirts or shirts with prints on, all patterns should be aligned throughout the shirt. For example, if the shirt is striped, the stripes should be aligned from collar right down to cuff, if the stripes don’t correspond or look wonky it’s a sign of bad craftsmanship.
The yoke is efficient stitching designed to make you feel more comfortable and to give you room to move your back and shoulders. Quality shirts usually have a split shoulder yoke – the stitching is sewn a few centimetres down from the collar (on the back of the shirt) and then sewn across the back forming two separate shoulder compartments. This accommodates for comfortable back and shoulder movement.