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I'm a college student. I discovered GAP's "perfect fitted shirts" a year ago:

https://www.gap.com/browse/product.do?cid=42839&pid=376872&scid=376872002

They have a nice weight, and as crazy as it sounds the fitted cut fits me and my spare tire(s) pretty comfortably. Being a student in a warm area, I like a shirt to be a bit more substantial since I generally don't wear a coat.

GAP's non-premium dress shirts look and feel cheap, so I've been sticking with the nice ones. But you can only get them in a few solid colors. I called them up and asked them what was different about the fabric and all I got was some line about "it is premium woven 2-ply fabric."

I've tried buying shirts online, and generally they don't have the right feel. I've found some shirts in nicer stores that feel the same - Nordstrom, BB, etc - but they tend to cost a fortune! Any suggestions on A.) how to better define the type of shirt I'm looking for and B.) where to find them? Thanks!!
 

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You could do what I do and set aside a day to go shopping at Nordstrom, Saks, et al., politely decline pushy assistance from the commission-based salespeople, try stuff on and make a mental note of the size (or write it down when no one is looking), then buy it much cheaper on eBay. This works better for lesser-known brands of good quality (Ike Behar comes to mind) than it does for, say, Thomas Pink.

If your price range is around $40 like that Gap shirt, I'd suggest doing the Lands End custom fit online dealie. You'll get a much better fit but the fabric won't be great. I've also gotten shirts from T.M. Lewin for <$30 (this isn't uncommon - they always have sales and the VAT is included in their quoted price) that I really love. I also have two or three Charles Tyrwhitt shirts that I sort of like but even their "slim fit" shirts are rather baggy, especially in the sleeves. And finally, I like the newer J. Crew models, which are all fitted, one of which I just got for $23 (they have a 15% student discount! you just have to show student ID).

Another option is the Sym's/Marshall's/Filene's circuit, but I'd recommend taking some sedatives first because it can be a rather frustrating experience.

Regarding what to ask for when it comes to quality: hard to say in that price range because most mass-market retailers have very subjective versions of what constitutes "premium quality". Asking a higher-end shirtmaker or salesperson about their fabric weaves is valid, but that's part of the reason you're paying a premium for the shirt.

In short: a student's budget can be downright laughable sometimes, so prepare to invest large chunks of time in shopping around for good deals on good products, exploiting the services of retailers that you cannot afford yet because, like me, your net worth is a negative number. (FWIW, I think I'm worth roughly -$86,000 judging by my most recent student loan reminder, yet I still somehow manage to have a closet full of goodies).
 
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