So you want to buy a dress shirt. OK, you need to buy one.

Maybe you're graduating from college tees to career shirt. Maybe the last time you shopped, collars looked like small aircraft wings. You don't know shirt, and your mom/sister/girlfriend/wife has better things to do than to hold your hand.

Shirt shopping is not scary. Think of it as a sport. First, learn the rules.

Knowledgeable salespeople can explain spreads, plackets, inverted pleats, oxford, poplin, no-iron cotton and fit, and can honestly answer the question, "Does this collar make my neck look fat?"

Collar sizes and sleeve lengths come in standard increments, but manufacturers interpret numbers differently, so one brand's 161/2 collar might fit while another's feels snug.

Ditto shirt bodies. A standard cut is boxy; an athletic cut fits closer to the torso. But both are based on Joe Average and won't fit every body.

Stephanie Andronis wears a tape measure like a necklace. "We always measure," says the manager of a Men's Wearhouse in Portland, Ore.

"Some men buy off the rack and have it tailored," Andronis says. "It costs less than a hand-tailored shirt but will have some of the same fit."

No-iron cotton

Athletic or slim-fit shirts are favorites with "neo-contemporary customers," says Mara Tatman, Macy's dress shirt and tie buyer, citing brands such as Kenneth Cole Reaction, Calvin Klein, Alfani and Boss by Hugo Boss. The biggest trend? "No-iron cotton," Tatman says. "That is on fire!"

Macy's carries no-iron cotton in traditional cuts only, but come fall will have more. Until then, Tatman says, "The skinny guy still has to iron."

The chemically treated cotton resists wrinkles and can be worn straight from the dryer or with minor touch-ups.

"It holds shape," Andronis says, "and stays crisp throughout the day."

Better shirts typically are 100 percent cotton -- Men's Wearhouse stopped carrying poly blends -- but ply, weave and the number of threads per square inch all affect quality and price.

Subtle weave patterns, such as tiny herringbone or alternate stripes of matte and shine, emerged last year, and the trend continues. Whites and blues remain staples, but gaining popularity at Macy's are shades of purple with grays.

Some men's stores take custom orders, measuring thoroughly and walking customers through fabrics, collars, sleeves, cuffs and other details. A company called Tom James delivers service to your door in the model of Avon home sales.

Subtle changes

Menswear changes in small and subtle ways.

For example, collars -- that is, the space between collar points -- are getting wider.

Thicker ties -- thicker cuts, fabrics and knots -- neatly fill that space, but retailers say some young customers intentionally seek skinny ties for a different look. The wider collar spread is a notable change: "A sign they need to update their wardrobe," says Tatman, or "look dated."

The dressiest shirts feature French cuffs, held closed with cuff links or silk knots rather than buttons. Some men order the holes placed close to the edge of the cuff to better show links beneath suit jackets. With cuff links, men can be daring in small ways. French cuff shirts were traditionally worn only under suit jackets, but haberdashers say they now see some jacketless young men wearing cuff links.

Rules, even fashionable ones, are made to be broken.