There are lots of elements that go into making the perfect dress shirt. But one of the most important is the shirt collar. Not only does the shirt collar finish the look of the shirt and effectively frame the face, it also works with any tie or other neckwear to create a harmonious and smart appearance. Therefore, understanding collars, how they work and what type pair with what tie is crucial to getting your look just right.
The first thing to understand about the collar are the parts that combine to create it. While the collar itself may be a single piece of material, there are a number of basic elements to it that create the type of collar. The anatomy of a collar includes collar points, the length of these points, the collar band, height and the tie space. So what are all of these and why do they matter?
Firstly, the collar points are simply the tips of the collar. The point length is the distance from the collar band to the collar points while the spread is the distance between the collar points horizontally as you wear it. The band is the part of the collar that stretches around the back of the neck and its height is the measurement from where the band joins the shirt to the highest point as it sits on the neck. Lastly, the tie space is the area between the collar where the last button is found and is where the tie knot would sit.
Every collar will feature these elements in different dimensions and slightly varying forms. Some collars also make use of two additional features – collar interlining and collar stays, also known as collar bones.
Interlining is an extra piece of material that is either fused or sewn to the collar to give it extra stiffness and structure. This is important whether the shirt is worn on its own or with a jacket. Sewn lining is often used on bespoke shirts and is sewn into place by hand but occasionally this can move over time. Fusible interlining is fused into place with a light adhesive and therefore is much less likely to move. The majority of dress shirts available today make use of the latter for this reason. Good quality dress shirt fusible interlining will withstand frequent washing and wear without bubbling or coming loose.
Collar stays or bones are little pointed pieces of either metal or plastic that are inserted into the underside of a collar. They are designed to make sure the collar stays upright and doesn’t curl up or roll down while being worn. The result is a professional and smart finish. There are two types of stays – sewn in or removable. Sewn in are an integral part of the shirt that are sewn into place during its construction and remain there. Removable ones, as the name suggests, can be taken out when required so if you want the shirt to look a little less formal, this can be an option. Collar stays come in a variety of sizes to suit different collar sizes and getting the right one is important to getting the right finish.
Types of collar
Choosing the right type of collar can be done by a number of factors. Firstly, picking what you like – after all, you are wearing the shirt and you have to feel comfortable in it. Secondly, look at your face shape and size and use this as an inspiration for the type of collar that will complement it. Lastly, think about the type of neckwear you want to add as each collar will have tips about what it works best with.
Classic straight point
As the name suggests, the classic straight point collar is the go-to style that works for almost any face shape, any occasion and any style of neckwear. In fact, it is said to make up some 90% of the collar market so is likely to already feature heavily in your wardrobe. The straight point element means that the points of the collar are relatively close together and form a straighter line than other styles. The classic has a tie space of around ¾ inch while the collar point length is around 2 ¾ inch allowing almost any style of tie to be used with it.
The narrow straight point is a version of the classic straight point where there is an even smaller spread between the collar points while the length of the points is generally longer, around the 3 ½ inch mark. This style is particularly beneficial to men with a round face who want to appear a little slenderer as it draws the eye down to the tie and away from the face. It is a great pairing with a classic four in hand style of tie knot.
The Kent collar was named for the Duke of Kent who first made it a popular style and is a version of the classic straight point collar. It is ideal if you have a shorter neck as it creates a vertical look, adding some length. It works perfectly with knots such as the four in hand, the half Windsor or the Pratt.
The cutaway or spread collar has a much wider spread between the collar points, with some styles almost pointing back towards the collar. They have more of the upper shirt area on show and this means they can handle the biggest styles of tie knots. The spread collar has been around for over a century and was made famous by both English royalty such as Prince Charles and a host of Hollywood celebrities including Douglas Fairbanks.
These styles of collars are ideal for the taller man with a slender face as it can make the face look a little wider. On the turn side, they don’t complement the round faced man so are worth avoiding if you fall into this category.
The semi cutaway is something of the middle ground between the spread and the classic point collars. This is a very trendy and modern style that works for almost every shape of face and build and is ideal for medium sized knots. It has a collar point size of around 2 ¾ inches with a 4 inch spread.
The curved spread and the wide spread are two more versions of the classic spread collar and are both considered to be very modern. The curved spread was made famous by the NBA coach Pay Riley and is often used with a stiff lining. The wide spread began as a European style but has travelled around the world and has style known as a ‘kissing tie space’, meaning that there is no gap between the collar points above the button. This means that narrow ties and tie knots are the perfect match for this type of collar.
As the name suggests, the extreme cutaway is the most widespread collar design available with tips that face to the shoulders rather than down the front. They work best with slim ties and slender tie knots as well as complementing the very narrow face shapes, adding a little width to the look.
As the name suggests, the button down collar uses a small button on the collar points to keep the collar in place. The idea was first created by John E Brooks, of the Brooks family, back in 1896 while watching polo players who were using a fastening to keep their shirt collars in place. Distracted by flapping material, the players had sewn their collars down so that they complied with the dress code for the game but weren’t irritated by the collar. John returned to Brooks Brothers and began creating the polo collar shirt featuring the button down. This collar today is seen as the sporty option, the great middle ground between the ultra-formal straight point collars and the relaxed spread collars and can be worn comfortably with or without a tie.
The hidden button down is a new modern version of the classic button down collar that uses two buttons placed under the collar. This means it has the staying power of the button down but the look of a normal collar because the buttons are hidden. It is a great way to have the professional look while not having to worry about a moving collar.
Other styles of collar
The one piece collar is at the very top of the list for the fashion conscious, smart man. This collar, exemplified by the brand Liefling, involved a collar made from one piece of material that creates a very sharp look. Most collars are made by combining a number of pieces of material and need starching or collar bones to stay upright. Because the one piece collar is made from a single piece of material, this isn’t needed. The collar was inspired by the California Collar and the Cooper Collar, older styles of a one piece.
Tab collars are a great way to achieve that ‘standing’ look of many ties without having to learn a range of complicated knots. The collar has a small tab that runs from the middle of each point that are fixed together, often employing a hook and loop closure or something similar. The tab sits behind the tie and pushes it forward and upwards for that desired look. Tab collars aren’t ones to be worn without a tie, as the tab would look a bit strange when not in use.
Pin collars are a variation of the tab collar that make use of a decorative pin or bar in place of the simple material tab. The collar of these shirts has a tiny hole that allows a special pin to be inserted through the hole, under the tie knot and through the other side. This also creates the standing tie look and again doesn’t really work without a tie as the little holes can be seen.
The wing or wingtip collar, also known as the smoking shirt, is the most formal version of the dress shirt collar and is worn with a bow tie for white or black tie events with a tuxedo. The collars have starched points that reach outwards, hence their name, and are usually around 2 1/8 inch on the collar point length. The style was inspired by the Gladstone collar, first worn by British Prime Minister William Gladstone.
Banded collars are a modern version of the classic Mandarin collar that uses a collar band without any collar points. This is the definition of the no-tie collar due to its lack of a structure to hold one and is a popular option for casual shirts though is growing in popularity for some more formal dress shirts. It is seen as a great modern version of a heritage look that can be the height of fashion.
How to choose the right collar
So now that we have had a look at the world of shirt collars, the obvious question is which one is right for you? There are three factors to consider when choosing a shirt collar – your face, the occasion and what you like.
As mentioned, some style better suit some face shapes and sizes than others. Spread collars add to a narrow face while a straight point can work to make a round face look slenderer. Added to this is choosing what you like – you always feel more comfortable when you like what you wear.
Finally, the occasion – and how much you want to conform to the dress standard for any occasion. Tuxedos call for wing collars to accommodate the bow tie and other ultra-formal neckwear while at the other end of the scale is the banded collar, the modern and casual look. Of course, there are no rules about what you wear, only style guidelines. So you can go along with what is seen as the best collar to wear for the occasion or you can break the mould and go with something completely different – the choice is entirely yours!