With the rebirth of traditional collars – mixing it with the best in contemporary versions and variations – men have so many ways to express personal style through their dress shirts.
With a plethora of collars on offer, the choice for stylish men extends beyond a taste for a certain colour and pattern. But with so much choice, it’s easy to be like that awkward dinner party guest who’s started eating his main course with the bread and butter knife, only to be told later of his embarrassing etiquette mistake by a friend.
It speaks sophistication to be able to choose the appropriate collar for everyday wear or a special-occasion event. No more social mishaps or fashion faux pas need plague your busy schedule; collar etiquette is what’s on the menu, gents. So, whet your appetite.
Breaking It Down
The collar is the dress shirt’s most standout feature. So a poor, casual choice when attending a formal event instantly singles you out style-inept and destroys all the hard work put into a bespoke suit and well-sheened shoes.
Today, there are many collar types to choose from. But, the following guide outlines the more common examples; ones that every gentlemen should know how to work – and own in 2015.
The Straight or Forward Point Collar
Essentially, the straight point collar is the most balanced collar type, suiting both formal and casual attire. It is cut using straight lines, which end in a point, and is distinguished by its small spread (the physical gap that sits between the two collar points).
Mostly associated with the traditional men’s dress shirt, it’s a foolproof collar choice for the office, wedding or smart casual rendezvous.
The collar works well with most lapel styles (peak, notch or shawl). And as for the tie, the four-in-hand – recognised for its smaller knot, is your best option. Why not try the look without a tie for a dressed-down aesthetic: a snug blazer, chino trousers and sockless brogues for the win.
The Spread or Cutaway Collar
The spread or cutaway collar is known for having the spread wide apart (where the two points meet). It’s seeing a welcomed resurgence of late with men taking the time to dress up a bit more. The style is best suited to formal occasions and traditionally worn with a larger knot tie, such as a half Windsor or full Windsor. But play around with smaller knot ties too, if the event isn’t super formal.
The spread does vary – from regular cutaway to extreme cutaway – shifting widths and angles, and it’s a perfect choice for a sophisticated romp in the city for the super corporate workplace. Don’t go tie-less with this collar. But instead, dress-down the tie-and-shirt combination with a pair of jeans and loafers.
The button-down collar is connected directly to the shirt fabric via two small buttons. The least formal of the collar types, the button-down can be worn with or without a tie and is best for more casual events.
The spread varies from brand to style, so play around with what type you want, depending on the inclusion of a tie or not.
Wing Tip Collar
The wing tip collar is designed to house the bow tie. By far the most formal collar, the wing tip is usually worn with a tuxedo. It’s a short shirt collar that has two small wings at the front.
Wing collar shirting often comes in crisp white, cotton poplin for those dapper black tie events. But essentially, this type of shirt is not a wardrobe staple unless you frequent the Oscars or plan to attend the wedding of an English aristocrat.
The tab collar is a shorter version of the straight point collar. It’s a rarer collar and is most popular for bespoke-taste gents who seek something super traditional. The tab collar’s purpose is to promote the tie knot. So, wear it with a woven medium width tie in silk or light cotton, and keep the knot small – the four-in-hand method is the best approach.
Again, don’t go tieless with this style and pair the shirt with a bespoke suit or jacket and business-ready Oxfords.
Club Or Rounded Collar
The rounded collar was part of Eton College’s (school of Prince William and Harry) dress code beginning in the mid-1800s. Belonging to exclusive school club, the rounded collar was soon coined the ‘club’ – and it was adopted by the Mods and golfers.
Today, it is one of the rarer collars but it remains a classic of men’s style. Keep the tie know small and some stylish gents are even sticking a metallic pin that lays horizontal across the spread, connecting the two points.
Meanwhile, fashion types – intent on channelling formal nostalgic looks – are also getting onto the club collar, working the shirt done up to the top of the neck and without a tie – or open and with a neckerchief. Choose your club, and stick to it.
While there remains a code of rules that govern the dress shirt collar – be it wing tip for bow ties or the cutaway with a windsor knot tie – the collar game can be played around with a bit; interchanging different tie widths or a no-tie look, depending on the social expectations of the event.
More Learning On Fabrics & Cuffs…
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. Here’s what you need to know about dress shirt fabrics and cuff styles.
Cotton Dress Shirts
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 Dress Shirts
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 Dress Shirts
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 Dress Shirts
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.
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 casual wear, and not really appropriate for anything more formal than the boardroom.
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.
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.
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.