What’s Your Collar ID?
Styles Abound, but Finding Collars to Fit the Occasion, Flatter the Face Is Knotty
This abbreviated spread collar, which Charles Tyrwhitt calls a ‘small business casual collar’ falls in between dressy and casual. Charles Tyrwhitt
What’s happened to men’s collars?
There are now not just spread collars but medium spreads and extreme spreads, and not just button-down collars but abbreviated button-down collars and short, rounded button-down collars.
There is the return of the snap-tab collar, which Hamilton, a 130-year-old high-end shirt maker in Houston, is aggressively promoting for spring.
Thomas Pink is among the brands launching “dressy” button-down shirts meant to be worn with suits and ties, traditionally a no-no.
The least familiar, and therefore most shocking to the eye, are the extremely short collars some designers have shown on runways over the past two years.
Harry Styles, a One Direction heartthrob, sports the club collar sans tie. Associated Press
These new collar shapes and styles are in part due to the menswear industry’s revival of looks that have long been out of fashion. For example, the club collar, with its abbreviated, rounded shape, is back.
The overall slimming down of the menswear silhouette calls for smaller collars. Designers and retailers also have been pushing clothes that fall somewhere in between work wear and casual wear, and adding more collar options along the way.
Jamie Dimon, of JPMorgan Chase, in a forward point collar. Getty Images
Brooks Brothers, which currently carries 10 collar styles, sells an English spread collar and a Londoner collar. (The spread, or collar width, on the English spread collar is 5 inches, while the Londoner is 6). There are tennis collars and golf collars, also known as club collars.
The upside: Men have more ways to communicate personal style through their shirts than color and pattern. The downside: Men who want to choose the appropriate collar for everyday or special-occasion events may need a scorecard.
Shirt makers and retailers recently began placing more emphasis on medium-spread collars, which work buttoned up with a tie but, conveniently, also can be worn with the top button undone and the collar falling neatly under the lapel of a sport coat without winging out.
Mike Sudal and Joseph Shoulak/The Wall Street Journal
Banana Republic began re-engineering its shirt collars three years ago in pursuit of such a collar. The retailer conducted a series of wear tests where men wore the shirts with ties and different knots and then tried the same shirts with the top button undone.
Simon Kneen, creative director of Banana Republic, says the retailer also used a lighter fusable, or adhesive, in the collars to make them less rigid, trying to achieve collar “magic,” Mr. Kneen says. “The magic is when the first button opens and the collar doesn’t fly around your ears, which is never a good look.”
Banana Republic calls the collar that resulted its “signature” collar—it is the collar shoppers will find on most of its non-button-down dress shirts.
Brooks Brothers, Hamilton, Thomas Pink and Turnbull & Asser say spread collars are their most popular, with medium or moderate spreads the top sellers, especially among men in their 20s to early 40s.
The sales reflect a man who wants to buy a shirt that can work with and without a tie. Traditional forward-point-collar shirts, are generally always worn with suits and ties, as the collars can look oddly long and pointy when the top button is undone.
David Elrod, a Dallas trial lawyer, says he prefers to wear forward-point collars with suits and ties rather than spread collars. “I try to dress more conservative in the courtroom,” Mr. Elrod says. He wears spread collars while traveling with a sport coat and no tie.
But the 61-year-old says he would never wear a spread collar with a tie: “A lot of younger guys do that but most guys my age wear the more conservative point collar with ties.”
Some traditional rules surrounding collars seem to be going out the window. Wearing a button-down collar shirt with a suit and tie has sometimes been frowned upon by purists. Yet men’s fashion designers and fashion magazines have been showing button-down shirts worn with suits and ties in recent years.
Brooks Brothers launched a dressy button-down shirt in its higher-priced Luxury offering for spring. The retailer introduced button-downs in 1896 and they remain the clothier’s second best-selling shirts, after Ainsley spread collars, according to Richard Cristodero, merchandise manager for men’s furnishings.
Brooks Brothers decided to introduce a dressier button-down collar with a higher thread count and made with Italian-woven fabric in its Luxury shirt because sales staff had been getting requests from customers for such a shirt, he says. It is “something we were missing.”
Men who choose a button-down shirt to wear with a suit and tie should consider a dressy fabric.
“Button downs are really American sport shirts, worn with a jacket and tie for an Ivy-League look or out of context with an Italian suit a la Gianni Agnelli,” the late Fiat mogul known for his style, says Tom Julian, a New York-based men’s style consultant.
Button-down collars usually work best when worn with a pair of slacks, or under a crew neck sweater. “A crew neck is a more casual American sportswear look and therefore, the American sportswear collar complements it best,” says Mr. Julian, the author of two men’s style guides. Button-down collars also work with a sport coat and no tie.
Another collar that goes well with a sport coat sans tie is the semi- or medium-spread collar as both “stand up on their own without a tie,” and don’t flare out.
Beyond point collars, Mr. Julian has a rule of thumb on which shirts call for ties: “The wider the spread on a shirt, the more it needs a tie.” So shirts such as Thomas Pink’s new extreme cutaway collar shirt, called Beaufort, or Brooks Brothers’ Londoner should be worn with a tie. Also, the wider the spread, the larger the tie knot.
Shoppers should also consider a man’s physical size. “A wide collar can broaden a narrow neck and face by drawing the eye outward,” says Mr. Julian. “Conversely, a narrow-point collar can draw the eyes in and down when a man has a wide face and neck.”
Tab and club collars, meanwhile, “are more novelty at this point, but fun for the more adventurous,” he says. Pop star Harry Styles of boy band One Direction has been spotted wearing rounded club collars. Just don’t try them with a V-neck sweater or crew neck, Mr. Julian advises. The collar is too short for either one, so the balance will be all wrong.
“A man wearing a slim suit or blazer with a narrow lapel to the office should opt for a narrow-point collar that is about 1 inch shorter than average to keep the lean proportions,” Mr. Julian says.
That kind of collar might be too lean for a classic notch lapel sport coat, he says. A button-down would be more appropriate in that case. The proportions of a spread collar would work best with a double-breasted sport coat or one with wide peak lapels, he says.
Fans of a tweed sport coat with corduroy pants for the office should opt for the sporty feel of a button-down collar. For a dinner or drinks night, a spread collar pairs well with a sport coat or V-neck sweater and looks modern.
‘Downton Abbey’ characters Matthew Crawley, left, and Lord Grantham wear stiff, detachable collars affixed by their valets. Nick Briggs/ITV for Masterpiece
The Era of Collar Sold Separately
There was a time when the most popular collar for a man was a detachable one.
Detachable collars, like the ones on TV’s “Downton Abbey,” were typically attached to the shirt using studs via a little button hole in the back of the shirt’s band. Detachable collars also were often made of a stiffer material than the shirt so that the collar would “stand up,” says menswear historian Alan Flusser. This was especially important with formal wear’s “wing” collars.
Detachable collars also signaled social class. “You needed a butler or valet to help you put them on,” Mr. Flusser says.
The idea for detachable collars was born out of the drudgery of 19th Century laundering practices.
In 1820, a housewife in Troy, N.Y., whose blacksmith husband insisted on a clean shirt each night to attend evening events, decided to cut off the collars and attach them to the body of the shirt with strings, according to Mr. Flusser, who recounts the story in his book “Dressing the Man.” This way, a wife could clean just the collar, rather than laundering the entire shirt.
The collars caught on with other housewives and eventually commercial producers began making and selling detachable collars. “There were companies that just made collars,” Mr. Flusser says. Men could have many different collars for one shirt, he says.
Detachable collars started to fall out of favor between World War I and World War II with the introduction of washing machines as well as cloth rationing. Also, men’s style traditions such as wearing white tie, which usually called for wing collars, began to loosen and events requiring starched formal collars declined.
–Ray A. Smith