How much will a shirt shrink?

Generally speaking, dress shirts are made from woven cotton, and a nice woven cotton  shrinks an average of 2%.  All fabrics are a bit different, but 1-3% is a good rule of thumb. 2% may not sound like much, but keep in mind that for a collar size of 15″ that translates to 0.3″ in the collar size, and for a sleeve length of 35″, it can mean a full 0.7″!   Of course there are a number of caveats to this rule that should also be considered:

How the shirt is washed and dried make a a big difference

Some clients ask, “If I only dry-clean the shirt, will it still shrink?”, and unfortunately the answer is a complicated yes.  Certainly, if you rarely wear the shirt and only occasionally have it spot-cleaned by the dry-cleaner it will not shrink as much as if it is washed regularly in water.  And if you’re incredibly careful it may not shrink at all.  However, for other reasons, we don’t suggest dry-cleaning as the optimal method to wash a dress shirt.  Rather we suggest sizing the shirt such that some normal amount of shrinkage is taken into account and then washing  it in water and pressing it after.

Alternatively, if you wash the shirt in the washer, and then dry it on high-heat in the dryer, you will see shrinkage that is much more significant.

If you wash a shirt according to our suggested methods, you should see more minimal and predictable shrinkage over time, without the costs and hassle of dry-cleaning only.

Shrinkage happens over time, not all at once

The first time a shirt is washed it usually shrinks the most, but it can still be expected to shrink more over the life of the shirt.  We generally expect that the first washing gets about half the shrinkage out of it, the second gets another quarter, the third another eighth and so on in some logarithmic decreasing function although we don’t necessarily have the data to support this.  The point is, it’s common for a shirt to be slightly smaller after fifty washings than it was after its first washing.

Shrinkage in length vs width

Generally speaking (though there are plenty of exceptions) dress shirt fabrics shrink more in the warp than in the weft.  Another way of saying this is that dress shirts tend to shrink more in the length than in the width.  Sleeve length, shirt length and collar around are where you can expect most shrinkage to occur, while generally speaking shirts won’t shrink as much in their width.