Collars Just For Tie-Wearing
As I’ve expanded my wardrobe over the years, I’ve come to find that I sometimes favor things that are a bit more specialized, rather than versatile. About a year and a half ago, I had my shirt maker cut me a new collar style with longer points. It’s still a semi-spread design, like I usually take, but with extended points, the fuller collar gives a nicer counterbalance to my face and necktie. The extended points also ensure that my collar tips always stay neatly tucked underneath my sport coat, thus giving a nice uninterrupted line moving from my tie’s knot to my jacket’s lapels.
The only problem is that the collar a bit unwieldy when worn without a tie, which is why I think most today are made in one of two styles. The first are short collars, which is what you’ll find on many casual shirts sold in malls and fashion-y boutiques. Just step into a J. Crew or Barney’s to see what I mean. These are too short to be worn with a tie (unless you’re going for a more fashion-forward look), but to be fair, they’re not really meant to be worn with one anyway.
Then there’s the fuller collar style you’ll find at places such as Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren (at least on their more traditional lines, and on shirts that are sized by collar and sleeve length). These are designed to be worn in professional settings, so the points are long enough to support a necktie without lifting up too far off your body.
Still, even the fullest of these collars rarely approach the kind of style you see on Simone Righi above. I assume this is because short collars – like slim fitting clothes – have been trendy for over ten years, and trends are important, even in “classic” clothing. I assume it’s also because most men want to be able to wear their professional shirts without a tie, so they can make double use of it in casual environments. With a truly full collar, you risk looking like a 1970s disco dancer if you wear it open.
Medium length points are great for casual and formal settings, so if you don’t wear a tie often, or don’t want an excessively large wardrobe, they’re a great style to stick to. If you do wear ties often, however, or don’t mind spending a bit extra on clothes, try a fuller collar. They can admittedly look a bit too aggressive on first sight, but once you throw on a tailored jacket and put on some neckwear, you’ll notice they can give much more appealing proportions. Just see Simone Righi above as an example. 
(Photo via The Sartorialist)

Collars Just For Tie-Wearing

As I’ve expanded my wardrobe over the years, I’ve come to find that I sometimes favor things that are a bit more specialized, rather than versatile. About a year and a half ago, I had my shirt maker cut me a new collar style with longer points. It’s still a semi-spread design, like I usually take, but with extended points, the fuller collar gives a nicer counterbalance to my face and necktie. The extended points also ensure that my collar tips always stay neatly tucked underneath my sport coat, thus giving a nice uninterrupted line moving from my tie’s knot to my jacket’s lapels.

The only problem is that the collar a bit unwieldy when worn without a tie, which is why I think most today are made in one of two styles. The first are short collars, which is what you’ll find on many casual shirts sold in malls and fashion-y boutiques. Just step into a J. Crew or Barney’s to see what I mean. These are too short to be worn with a tie (unless you’re going for a more fashion-forward look), but to be fair, they’re not really meant to be worn with one anyway.

Then there’s the fuller collar style you’ll find at places such as Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren (at least on their more traditional lines, and on shirts that are sized by collar and sleeve length). These are designed to be worn in professional settings, so the points are long enough to support a necktie without lifting up too far off your body.

Still, even the fullest of these collars rarely approach the kind of style you see on Simone Righi above. I assume this is because short collars – like slim fitting clothes – have been trendy for over ten years, and trends are important, even in “classic” clothing. I assume it’s also because most men want to be able to wear their professional shirts without a tie, so they can make double use of it in casual environments. With a truly full collar, you risk looking like a 1970s disco dancer if you wear it open.

Medium length points are great for casual and formal settings, so if you don’t wear a tie often, or don’t want an excessively large wardrobe, they’re a great style to stick to. If you do wear ties often, however, or don’t mind spending a bit extra on clothes, try a fuller collar. They can admittedly look a bit too aggressive on first sight, but once you throw on a tailored jacket and put on some neckwear, you’ll notice they can give much more appealing proportions. Just see Simone Righi above as an example. 

(Photo via The Sartorialist)

The Beauty of a Soft Collar

I assume my friend The RJcat might find them to be a bit affected, but I really like soft collars. Ones worn without collar stays and allowed to give some natural expression. I think they look a bit more carefree and comfortable, and those to me are the bedrocks of good style.

A soft collar requires two things. First, there needs to be enough cloth. Many collars these days are skimpy and can’t carry a good necktie. If you wear them with one, the collar’s points will lift up off the shirt and make you look like you’re being choked. Even without a tie, a short, stubby collar can look awkward, almost like it’s apologizing for its own existence. A more traditional design will have longer points, which in turn will give you more material to express some character.

The second requirement is a soft interlining. A man’s shirt collar is traditionally made with three pieces of material – the two cotton fabrics that make up either side of the collar and an interlining sandwiched in between. This interlining is typically steam pressed into place so that it’s essentially glued to the cloth. If the interlining is stiff, the collar will look rigid; if it’s soft, it will roll, curl, or otherwise do whatever it will naturally do.

Note that some shirts are made with unfused collars, which means the interlining won’t be glued to the shirt fabric. If you rub the collar between your fingers, you can feel the fabric slide across the interlining sitting in between. These types of collars will express their own character (one that Mr. Tony Chang of Ascot Chang, my preferred shirtmaker, described in my interview with him). However, this matter is technically a separate issue from whether the interlining itself is soft.

A stiff collar has its own merits, of course. It will look a bit sharper and more “at attention.” In a truly professional setting, I suppose these are the only way to go. For myself, however, I mostly wear soft collars with fusible interlinings most days of the week, and every once in a while, something unfused. On a well-made shirt, such collars will express themselves like the ones above. Only if I need to look more professional will I straighten them out with collar stays, and that’s the part that The RJcat would probably disapprove

(Photos taken from Ethan Desu, Voxsartoria, and The Sartorialist)

The High Collar

I’ve always liked slightly higher collars. Such collars are made with a taller collar band, longer collar points, and are designed to sit a bit higher on the neck. The result is a quasi-Edwardian look that I think has a bit more panache. This style was popular seven or ten years ago among certain style enthusiasts, but I think it has since lost its cache. In Rome and Naples, however, many well-dressed men seem to still wear them. 

To wear such collars, you need to consider a few things. First, though the collar will always peak out from your jacket a bit more than orthodoxy would advise, you need to make sure its relationship to your neck stays within some range. If the collar is too tall, it can quickly end up looking like a neck brace. As such, if you have a short neck, you should avoid these altogether. Second, I’ve found that the collar points have to be made just right. The points should be slightly longer in order to maintain a balance, and they should be constructed with a softer interfacing. This will allow the more prominent collar to look soft and casual, not stiff or domineering. 

You may also want to consider getting two-buttons on the band. This helps prevent a couple of things. First, because the collar band is quite tall, a single button can act like a hinge and allow the band to rotate, which would then create an awkward opening below the collar. Having a second button helps act as a lock to prevent that rotation. The other problem, which is almost always present on any collar, is that the left side can droop down a bit. This is because the left side of the band goes over the right when its buttoned, so it essentially holds the right side up. When you have only one button, centered from the top to bottom, the left side can fall, so you need a second button to keep things in place. 

Of course, it can be difficult to find this off-the-rack, and even custom makers will have to go through a few iterations before they get something that looks right on you. After all that time and effort, you may find that you don’t like high collars after all. If you do end up liking it, however, I think it can add a really nice detail to a tailored look. 

* Photos taken from Ethan Desu, MostExerent, and The Sartorialist

Q and Answer: Collar Questions
James from Vancouver writes: Gentlemen, I recently bought a few shirts that have  a little hidden button underneath to keep the collar flap down.  When considering the spectrum of formality, would this fall closer to traditional  button-downs, or normal non button-down?
Also, what’s the deal with collar stays, or darts,  or whatever they’re called? I was at a store recently where someone tried  to sell me brass ones to replace the plastic stock units.  Brass?  Really?  I asked why I needed brass and he said “so you can bend them and they stay.”   Isn’t the idea that they keep the collar straight??
Those little hidden buttons can be a nice way to keep your collar points in check without the relative informality of the traditional button-down collar.  The question, I suppose, is what purpose they serve.  They suffer a bit from hybrid disease: they lack the informality of the button-down, but they’re no better than a standard collar when you’re wearing a tie.  Overall, we say: neutral.
As far as collar stays, we hadn’t thought of that explanation for brass stays, but we have to give the sales guy credit for creativity.  There really isn’t a reason, besides a general preference for metal over plastic.  I must admit that a couple years ago for Christmas my mom got me some gold-plated stays, and I enjoy the idea that the most precious part of my outfit is hidden to the outside world.  Functionally, though, stout plastic is just fine.
(One addition, per Un: brass stays won’t melt if ironed.)

Q and Answer: Collar Questions

James from Vancouver writes: Gentlemen, I recently bought a few shirts that have a little hidden button underneath to keep the collar flap down.  When considering the spectrum of formality, would this fall closer to traditional button-downs, or normal non button-down?

Also, what’s the deal with collar stays, or darts, or whatever they’re called? I was at a store recently where someone tried to sell me brass ones to replace the plastic stock units.  Brass?  Really?  I asked why I needed brass and he said “so you can bend them and they stay.”   Isn’t the idea that they keep the collar straight??

Those little hidden buttons can be a nice way to keep your collar points in check without the relative informality of the traditional button-down collar.  The question, I suppose, is what purpose they serve.  They suffer a bit from hybrid disease: they lack the informality of the button-down, but they’re no better than a standard collar when you’re wearing a tie.  Overall, we say: neutral.

As far as collar stays, we hadn’t thought of that explanation for brass stays, but we have to give the sales guy credit for creativity.  There really isn’t a reason, besides a general preference for metal over plastic.  I must admit that a couple years ago for Christmas my mom got me some gold-plated stays, and I enjoy the idea that the most precious part of my outfit is hidden to the outside world.  Functionally, though, stout plastic is just fine.

(One addition, per Un: brass stays won’t melt if ironed.)