One of the biggest challenges facing any traveler is how to pack dress shirts while keeping them wearable for your destination.
Destination weddings, business meetings, and dining at restaurants all call for packing dress shirts. A fancy shirt or two will easily fit in your carry on travel backpack. But if you don’t know how to pack one without it becoming a wrinkled mess, you may as well leave it at home.
The good news is that there are reliable ways to buy and fold dress shirts for travel. Packing a dress shirt is about to get a lot easier.
How to Pack Dress Shirts
Here’s how to pack a dress shirt without wrinkling it:
- Button the shirt up to the top button.
- Lay it facedown on a flat, hard surface (like a table).
- Spread it out, sleeves to the side.
- Fold sleeves inward to the middle of the shirt (horizontal fold). This should be about halfway up the sleeve; repeat for the other side.
- PRO TIP: If you want to keep your dress shirt extra wrinkle-free, put a dryer sheet here; it provides “interstitial suspension” so the fabric won’t bunch up once you finish folding it (yeah, physics is involved). Also, it makes your bag smell great.
- Fold in each side about 3 inches towards the middle of the shirt; if you’re doing it right, you’ll have a “V” pattern at the top of the back of your shirt.
- Fold in half, from the bottom up once. Fold in half again for a tighter fold or if you really need the space.
- Celebrate looking great.
Wrinkle-Proof Dress Shirt Packing
This method is more or less how department stores fold dress shirts for display, and I’d know. My first job was working in retail (PACSUN for life), and I’ve worked at several other chains since then. This method is the simplest way to tightly pack a dress shirt for travel. While it’s not perfectly wrinkle-proof (nothing is), it’s pretty dang good.
There’s no silver bullet for wrinkle-free packing, whether for dress shirts, travel shirts, or t-shirts. When you cram clothes into a small area, they get wrinkled. Even the most carefully packed bags settle over time, which means your clothes are going to crease and wrinkle. However, this “display” folding method keeps your dress shirts tight, which is really the best thing you can do because a well-folded dress shirt will hold its shape.
Folding vs. Rolling a Travel Dress Shirt
“What about rolling your clothes? I’ve heard you can roll them into a tight military roll and keep them wrinkle-free,” you might say. While military rolls are badass, and you should totally do that to save space if you can, rolling your dress shirt won’t keep it from getting wrinkled. There’s too much fabric, especially with long sleeves. We even wrote a whole article about folding vs. rolling your clothes.
The only foolproof way to pack a dress shirt without wrinkles is to buy a dress shirt that never wrinkles. So let’s take a look at a few of the best wrinkle-free travel dress shirts.
How to Buy a Travel Dress Shirt
A lot of companies claim to have “wrinkle-free” dress shirts, but real travel dress shirts all have a few things in common, namely synthetic fabrics. Nylon, lycra, polyester, even carbon weaves, are the hallmarks of a great wrinkle-resistant dress shirt. Before you believe the hype, check the tag and make sure there’s at least a blend of polyester or other synthetic material.
The Thirty Second Rule
Not sure if the shirt fabric is wrinkle-free? One of our other writers, Laura Lopuch, recommends crushing a corner of the shirt in your fist for thirty seconds. If it doesn’t wrinkle, or if you can easily smooth it back out, you’re in business.
Thinner Isn’t Better
There’s a simple reason your chunky wool sweater never wrinkles: it’s too thick.
If you try on enough wrinkle-resistant shirts, you’ll quickly notice that they’re all a little thicker than you’re used to. That’s because thin shirts more easily wrinkle.
Higher thread count dress shirts are also more prone to wrinkling. So while that paper-thin chambray collared shirt might look awesome in your closet, it’s going to look terrible after your 6-hour layover in Dallas. Try on several travel shirts to see how they fit, move, breathe, and whether they have the heft to repel wrinkles.
Non-Iron Dress Shirts vs. Wrinkle-Resistant
The final thing to consider before you buy a travel dress shirt is the debate between non-iron shirts vs. wrinkle-resistant shirts (and yes, there is a huge difference). It’s all about how the shirts are treated to repel wrinkles.
Wrinkle-resistant shirts usually look and feel like “regular” shirts because they primarily rely upon the quality of the fabric (nylon, lycra, polyester) and the thickness of the weave to repel most wrinkles. Some companies apply chemical treatments to the fabric during the finishing process, but not all. Generally speaking, wrinkle-free shirts feel softer and breathe more.
Non-iron shirts, on the other hand, are typically made from fibers that are pre-treated with some pretty intense chemicals. One of the biggest culprits is formaldehyde. Yeah, that formaldehyde. Non-iron shirts repel wrinkles better than wrinkle-resistant ones but at the expense of softness, shape, and breathability thanks to harmful chemicals like formaldehyde. Think of non-iron shirts as regular shirts with wrinkle-free spray coating. They’re stiffer, but that’s why the wrinkles don’t take.
However, it’s important to note that not all non-iron shirts are made with harmful chemicals. Twillory uses SafeCotton to make formaldehyde-free shirts.
For me, wrinkles aren’t a big enough deal to wear a potentially harmful chemical. But it’s all about what you’re willing to sacrifice and how you travel. If you absolutely can’t have wrinkles, a non-iron shirt is for you. If you crave a comfy fit and natural look, wrinkle-resistant is more than good enough.
The Best Wrinkle-Free Travel Dress Shirts
Bluffworks Travel Dress Shirt ($125)
My favorite wrinkle-free shirt is the Bluffworks Travel Dress Shirt. It’s no secret I’m a big Bluffworks fan (I love their travel chinos). I like everything they make, and it’s because their travel clothes don’t feel like travel clothes. The Bluffworks dress shirt is something you’d wear in your hometown.
Made from 98% polyester (that’s a good thing), it has lots of stretch, plus it breathes and dries quickly. The best part is that it’s machine washable.
Perfect for happy hour or the boardroom in any city you visit.
Twillory Non-Iron Dress Shirt ($99)
Made from SafeCotton (a.k.a. “not treated with formaldehyde), Twillory non-iron dress shirts are some of the best wrinkle-resistant shirts on the market right now.
Made from two-ply cotton twill (more of that interstitial suspension), these shirts are soft, breathe, and feel great. If you need to stock up for a cross-country investment funding round, buy four and save $200.
Proper Cloth Hudson Wrinkle-Resistant Twill ($95)
While Proper Cloth does have a line of non-iron shirts (not for me), the Hudson Wrinkle-Resistant Travel Dress Shirt is a great middle-ground for business travelers. Featuring a light wrinkle-resistant treatment so that it stays looking crisp throughout the day, you’ll still want to pass an iron over it before the big meeting.
Great for hotel travelers with access to an iron. This shirt is comfy, but it’s not a great travel dress shirt for living out of your backpack for three weeks.
Banana Republic Camden Non-Iron Stretch Dress Shirt ($79)
This shirt is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S. Sorry, I had to. But truthfully, Banana Republic makes a great wrinkle-free dress shirt. More affordable than typical non-iron dress shirts, the fit and feel are what you’d expect from the pros.
While this shirt is 100% cotton (no synthetic fabrics, but machine washable), it’s got “natural stretch due to the unique construction of its yarn.” Lightly treated with a non-iron finish, this dress shirt is built for closing deals on the road.
Ledbury Wrinkle-Resistant “Rutherford 120” Dress Shirt ($165)
If you’ve got the money for a premium wrinkle-resistant dress shirt, Ledbury is for you.
Their materials look as good as they feel. Single-button cuffs and slim fit options mean you’ll look as sleek and sharp as your carry on travel backpack in the overhead bin.