What is a dress shirt yoke?
It is the panel of fabric that is just behind your collar that goes over the tops of your shoulders.
What is the difference between a “one piece yoke” and a “split yoke”?
A one piece yoke is made from a single piece of fabric. A split yoke is split down the middle and sewn together in the middle.
What are the benefits of a split yoke vs. a one piece yoke?
This is where it gets interesting. First, the three arguments you most often hear are:
1) A split yoke uses more fabric and takes longer to make than a one piece yoke. While I don’t see this being a true benefit to the owner, many shirt snobs will suggest that because it takes longer and costs more it is therefore superior.
2) In a split yoke, the two pieces of fabric are rotated such that the stripes meet at an angle in the middle and any stripe or pattern is parallel to the front seam of the yoke. It’s really a matter of taste, but many people claim (and we tend to agree) that this makes for a cleaner, more stylish look. But this is still a subjective matter and furthermore, if the shirt is a solid color then this argument makes no sense at all. In fact, one could argue that the extra seam across the back makes the shirt look less clean.
3) Another argument you will often hear is that split yokes provide for a better fit. I’ve been scratching my head over this argument for awhile. I suppose it’s possible that a really advanced bespoke tailor on Jermyn street would adjust the different sides of the yoke to accommodate for some unevenness in the shoulders and that that this could potentially provide for a better fit. But this is risky stuff. While an asymmetrical shirt might actually fit its owner better, it also might actually exaggerate the appearance of the person’s asymmetry. Furthermore, no made-to-measure shirt makers I know (including Proper Cloth) take this into account. Basically, we make the split yoke the exact same shape of the one piece yoke.
The real reason split yokes are superior to single piece yokes.
To understand the real reason, you first need to understand how woven cottons stretch. If you have a dress shirt made from 100% cotton (most dress shirt fabric), you’ll notice that the fabric has threads running both vertically (warp) and horizontally (weft). For most high quality woven cottons, the fabric will not stretch very much at all if you try to stretch it vertically, or if you try to stretch it horizontally. However, if you try to stretch it diagonally it stretches pretty easily. (Go ahead – I can wait…) Thus, the real benefit of the split yoke is that by rotating the fabrics to the angled orientation, we are basically adding stretch to the yoke across its width! I can see how this could make a real difference in comfort. When you’re tying your shoes, or driving a car, or lots of other everyday activities, you put pressure on the yoke and if it is a split yoke it will stretch to accommodate your movement better.