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Here’s The Easiest Way To Understand Dress Shirts, Cuffs & Collars

It’s not as complicated as you think.

Finding a shirt is easy, but finding a good one is a different story. Between fabric selection and dozens of variations on collars and cuffs, it’s easy to get lost in the noise and end up with something that makes you look like a waiter at a function.

Last month we covered brands that do shirts and do them well.  The following guide is our (semi) definitive collection of pointers on fabrics, collars, and cuffs to help you sort through the mess of the crowded shirting market and get the right style that suits you.

Fabrics

Cotton

Cotton is the workhorse fabric of shirting. It’s a natural fibre that’s derived from a plant, so it that breathes well, is easy to dye and print, and doesn’t wrinkle up like a crushed piece of paper in the way that linen does.

However, not all cotton is created equal. It’s worth your time to dig into a brand’s production process to sort the worthy from the shite.

Silk

Silk shirts come and go, but they are a hard sell for those of us that don’t want to look like a sweaty mess or aspiring mafioso.

Silk doesn’t have the same breathable qualities of cotton and it doesn’t wick away moisture. You don’t want to look like a sleazy mug either, so keep them under lock and key for the throwback parties or Client Liaison shows.

Linen

Linen is the summer fabric. Its natural qualities – derived from flax plant –  make it lightweight and breathable, so it’s definitely your best option if you have a holiday in the tropics or can’t cop an Aussie summer.

However, linen tends to wrinkle, and fast. For this reason, it won’t fly in the boardroom unless you have a P.A that’s keen to do some serious ironing on the hour, every hour.

Polyester

Don’t you do it. Polyester doesn’t breathe, looks tacky even when it is new, and uses dodgy chemicals. Sure, it’s tough and water resistant but that’s as good as it gets. Cotton isn’t much more expensive and will serve you much better for the reasons we illustrated.

Collars

Spread

The ubiquitous spread is the going standard of shirt collars. The collar points protrude away from the button fastening, although the length, width and size depends on the brand.

So, no spread collar is the same. But if you take stock of your local CBD, you’ll find most guys in some variation of the same style. It tends to flatter most face shapes, but we think it’s far from the most interesting collar choice out there.

Button Down

When you think of preppy style, the famous button-down collar is likely one of the first things that comes to mind. Its origins belong to Brooks Brothers, but you’ve probably seen it on shirts from Ralph Lauren and a host of other (lesser) prep imitators.

Big business used to look down on the button-down, but times are changing, and you can get these collars with concealed buttons behind the collar.  We recommend the latter option for business, but you should definitely invest in external button-downs for casual.

Point

If you’ve seen Boardwalk Empire, you’ve seen one of these bad boys. Point collars sit tall on the neck and angle downwards sharply with a narrow point gap, so it’s a formal and pretty severe look – not something you should wear without a tie.

The point collar enjoyed serious game time in the Roaring Twenties, but you would need to see a tailor or take a stroll on the Row to find a proper point collar today. It sharp points can add definition to round features; for this reason, guys with gaunt or long faces should give it a miss.

Club

The club collar differs from its siblings by having soft, rounded edges in contrast to a point or curved edge. You may have seen Roger Sterling wear one (and pull it off like an absolute boss) in the first season of Mad Men, giving you an indication of its historic nature. It was one of ‘the’ collars men wore through the early 20th century, but is only really held up today by sartorial aficionados and old-school tailoring geeks.

Cutaway

The cutaway collar owes its heritage to the reigning dandy of British royalty, the Duke of Windsor. In the 30’s, it is popularly claimed that he adopted the cutaway as the curved edges of the collar allowed him to showcase a plump Windsor knot (another innovation attributed to the then-monarch).

The Row took notice, and the cutaway now enjoys enormous popularity among many contemporary menswear labels despite its aristocratic origins. This collar style is very universal: the cutaway can frame narrow features, add shape to round faces, and looks the business with or without a tie.

Wingtip

The wingtip collar is one of those break-glass-in-case-of-black-tie bits of menswear you don’t see on the cobbles much. Its collar tips point towards the wearer’s chin before arcing downwards, ideally providing room for a well-tied black satin bowtie do its thing.

It’s not for semi-formal wear, and certainly not something to whip out if your business shirts are at the laundromat. The wingtip is considered a bit stodgy today and doesn’t get much of a run in younger labels, but is well worth it if the invite asks for (or imposes) a proper rendition of black tie.

Grandad/Band

The grandad or band collar emerged in the early 20th century, although you won’t find consensus on the whys and hows.  Some say it emerged among blue collar workers who didn’t fancy the idea of their tie getting chomped by industrial machinery. Others disagree and attribute it to an act of sartorial rebellion among men who didn’t like stiff collars.

Either way, no one really cares, but it’s become a popular go-to for casual shirting.

Tab & Pin Collars

The tab and pin is more of an accessory to a collar, than a collar unto itself. A collar tab is a small strip of fabric, stitched on one side and buttoned on the other, that pulls the collar together. The collar pin achieves the same effect with a silver or gold pin running through the bottom of the collar, underneath the tie.

Both options are designed to sweep the tie forwards and maintain a rigid collar shape. We don’t see many legit tab or pin collars today outside the Row, so good luck finding one unless you drop some serious coin going custom.

Cuffs

Button

Button or barrel cuffs are the most common style of cuff. In case the name didn’t give you a hint, these cuffs are closed by button, compared to double cuffs that allow for silver or silk knot links.

There are too many variations of the humble button cuff to rattle off on a list. You can find these with up to three buttons, with rounded or square cuff edges, among other minor modifications you probably take no interest in. A common fixture for casualwear, and not really appropriate for anything more formal than the boardroom.

French/Double

French cuffs, also known as double cuffs, include an extra layer of fabric that folds back on itself, allowing the use of silver or gold cufflinks. You might find that they’re chunkier and longer than button cuffs, and don’t even bother trying to roll them up.

Most guys develop a preference early and don’t budge, but they are still the immutable standard for black and white tie dress. They’re regaining popularity among the power-suiting aficionados but for sheer versatility you can’t go better than the barrel cuff.

Bond/Milanese/Turnback/Cocktail

This peculiar cuff is something of a middle-ground between button and French cuffs. It has an extra fold of curved fabric, like a French cuff, but it buttons up through the middle. What does this have over other cuffs? Diddly squat, and the controversy over its utility and adherence to standards hasn’t gone anywhere.

Sartorial nerds hated it because it disrupted convention, normal guys love it because the cuff killed two birds with one stone and has something to do with 007. A rare find in RTW collections, but we think there are probably more flattering ways to emulate Sir Roger Moore.

Convertible Cuffs

Some guys really want to do menswear on the cheap. Convertible cuffs include both button fastenings and link holes to insert cufflinks, eliminating the necessity of different shirts for each option.

We’re not big fans. It’s hard to wear these and not look like a bit of a stingy bastard. It doesn’t help that most brands worth your money avoid these as strenuously as they can. Sure, they’re supposed to give you versatility, but how hard is it to get more than one shirt? Fire up and build a rotation.

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