With the slow disappearance of the tie from the male wardrobe, the shirt collar has become increasingly important. It now bears almost sole responsibility for framing and flattering the face. 

However, guides to shirt collars – such as this one – still focus primarily on shirts worn with ties. They also spend too much time (in my view) discussing antiquated styles, such as club collars, tabs and pins.

This piece aims to correct both those points. It will provide an overview of different collar shapes, and discuss collars worn with ties; but the focus will be on shapes men actually wear – and how those work with and without a tie. 

 

 

The types of collar

There are three main shapes of collar: the spread, the point and the button-down. Most people will know which those are, but for those that don’t, pictures like the ones above illustrate that pretty quickly. 

Each of those three collars has three main variables, which affect how the collar looks and the relationship it has with your face. Those are:

  • Height (the collar stand, both at the back and front)
  • Length (how long the collar is along the front edge)
  • Spread (the distance between the two points)

Other, smaller points include the structure of the collar (floating, fused or no lining, in different weights) and the placement of the buttons on a button-down (and therefore how much ‘roll’ it has). 

 

 

I think readers can also look at an illustration and understand that  a ‘cutaway’ collar has a greater distance between the points than a ‘spread’ collar. That there is a range of each, and that there are extremes. 

The names are not really important, and neither is how you define them – whether by angle or spread, for example. 

What is important is to consider each of these variables when working out which style suits you. And then, just as importantly, balance that with other considerations such as style and formality. 

 

 

Which collar suits you?

The general principle with collars is that the height should be similar to the proportions of your face and neck, while the spread should be the opposite. 

So if you have a longer neck (as I do), the collar should be higher. If you have a narrow face (as I do), the collar should also be higher. Reverse that for shorter and wider. 

However, the opposite applies for the spread of the collar. So I should wear a wider collar in order to stop my face looking too long (B2, above). Someone with a wide face should wear a point collar (A2, above). 

The idea is that the height needs to be proportionate to your face, while the spread mitigates the overall shape, and stops it looking too extreme. 

 

 

These rules make basic sense, I think. Certainly more than the other way around. 

But I find considerations of height more important than spread. A low collar is definitely unflattering on me, but a point less so. 

In the images above, the longer collar on the left makes my head look thinner than the spread collar on the right. But it’s a minor thing. The point doesn’t look bad.

Like many ‘rules’ of menswear, it has an effect I’m fully aware of and choose to accept. 

 

 

Height makes a bigger difference. Men with short necks look like they’re being swallowed by tall collars. But if I wear a low collar (or worse, a collarless/band shirt) my neck looks long and scraggly. 

The John Smedley polo shirt shown above, on the right, would look better with a higher collar. The Bryceland’s Sawtooth shirt on the left, too, would look better if the collar were a little taller. Neither were made for me. 

Even here, though, I’ve chosen to wear these in spite of their shortcomings. The Smedley polo because the fit everywhere else is so good. And the Sawtooth because I love the material and style. 

 

 

The other thing to remember with collar height, is that both back and the front are important. 

It’s easy to focus on the back, where the collar is in clear relationship with the line of the neck and the collar of the jacket (above). But if the front of the collar is too low, it has the same effect of making the neck look too long. Particularly when worn without a tie.

The collar is supposed to frame the face, to gently lead the viewer up to it and set it in its best light. To do this it needs to be well-proportioned all round. I’ve indicated those framing lines in the image below.

 

 

The lack of tie

That image above is one without a tie, and I think it’s a good example of how important collar shape then becomes. Not only is it the only clothing around the neck, but it sits away from the body, and is therefore more prominent. 

Unfortunately, most shirt collars are designed just to be worn with a tie, and so don’t work very well in this regard. They collapse too readily under the collar of a jacket. 

 

 

For a collar to work well on its own, it must be high enough to sit right outside the jacket; it must have points that are lower or support themselves better; and it helps enormously if the collar can ‘roll’ around the jacket collar. Lightly fused collars are better for this, as they mould more easily. 

Button-down styles are also usually easier, given the support the collar points have. But a spread collar can work just as well, if the fusing means it can mould and curve. 

In the image above, you can see how this (fused) spread collar rolls in a nice ‘S’ shape from the neck down under the jacket. That shape makes it much less likely to collapse.

 

 

Other collars

As mentioned at the start, I think a lot of collar styles look rather antiquated today. They tend to become fashionable with the help of a TV series (Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Peaky Blinders) but never stop appearing ‘period’ to most people. 

In this category I would place the small, rounded ‘club’ collar, and any that use something to fasten the two side of the collar together – whether tab, pin or bar. They also largely only work with a tie. 

Personally, I also dislike ‘hidden’ button downs, where the collar buttons to the body of the shirt, but by virtue of a button hidden under its point.

This style seems a little fussy to me (always a danger in sartorial menswear) and there’s always a point when you’re talking to someone wearing one, and you notice the fastening because the collar moves unnaturally. 

 

 

The camp or Cuban collar (above) has become more fashionable recently, and I think has a more permanent place in the wardrobe, by virtue of being so casual.

The key here is to remember the points about height: a camp collar has no structure, and is often cut quite low. Those with a longer neck should seek out ones that are cut higher on the neck, to allow for the lack of collar stand. 

 

 

And another recent trend is the one-piece collar (above), where the inside of the placket and the top collar are cut from one piece, so there is no visible seam.

The collar is of course made in more than one piece, and there is a seam for the underside of the collar, separating it from the body. But the outside has a lovely, natural-looking roll.

It looks appreciatively casual, and you can see why it is sometimes called the ‘holiday’ collar.

My only warning there is to consider how the collar looks with and without a jacket. Often a nice, large roll with a jacket becomes rather large and unwieldy once the jacket is removed. 

 

 

 

These are not rules

We could go into more depth on any of these types of collars. The obsession Americans have with unlined button-downs, for example, which are often declared ‘correct’ without consideration of any other context.

In the end, the most important thing is not to focus on names or traditions, but merely be able to assess the practical effects of any style of collar – and hopefully this piece has given you some tools to do so. 

Once you’ve done that, consider how much those effects matter to you. If your style and the rest of your clothing suits a high, cutaway collar, that’s just as important as what’s flattering. If a low collar suits you, but a higher one looks appropriately formal in your office, that’s important too.   

Collars are also less important than they used to be.

When everyone wore a dark suit, black shoes and a silk tie, the angle of a collar stood out. Today, with separate jackets and trousers, and more colour and pattern, there’s a lot more going on and they stand out less. 

As ever, your aim should always be to just make an informed decision. And if in doubt, avoid extremes. No reflex-angle cutaways or Goodfellas points. Just something nice and moderate and middling.

 

 

Above: A nice shot from our Shirtmakers Symposium a few years ago. Note the different collar shapes. A range of cutaways, with Jack Sepetjian (third from left) having the most extreme, and two unusual buttondowns: Justin Chang (far left) has a tab collar and hidden buttondown, while and Darren Tiernan from Budd (second from right) has a button-down one-piece collar. 

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Sam

All sensible! What is not included though is the relation between collar and tie. One of my major sartorial turnoffs is when a shirt collar is too small to generously frame the tie knot.

zo

also likewise with collar width and jacket lapel width.
another turnoff is when guys with a relatively large head to torso ratio (me, for example) wear trendy skinny collars…making the heads look even larger.

Dash Riprock.

You leave the button unfastened, the tie finds its own position. I always wear ties this way. Try it , It works and you’ll feel a bit original 🤠

Anonymous

I feel that the positioning of the third shirt button is really important. Good positioning will support the collar stand and determine a good angle for the V-shape, I think. I see a lot of people just leaving one button undone, which looks horrible to me.

Jason

This is a key point !
Bravo Anonymous – move up a dan in the sartorial black belt stakes.

Alexander

Thanks! But remeber: “Belts are just for keeping the trousers up.” (Mr. Miagi)
I forgot to enter my name in the post above. Sorry

Nicolas Stromback

Very good. I remember reading an article of yours a few years back about Luca and how his collars where made to stand without a tie. This was the selling point for me and needless to say Lucas shirts goes with or without a tie all the same.

Maybe its just me, but what puts me off in terms of not wearing a tie is actually that roll of the opening of the shirt that you mentioned above. I think what makes a man look good with no tie is the opposite, where the plaque is more overlapping. A good shirt, like Lucas, can be worn with two buttons undone and still have this effect.

Chancellor

I agree Nicolas. I think a tie-less shirt needs a collar that doesn’t collapse, but also a plaquet doesn’t collapse. That creates a nice v-shape that mirrors the front of a jacket.

mbb366

Great post and completely agree on collar importance–the PS oxfords are so good in this respect. I also have a long, thin neck and a strong preference for taller, stronger collars. Any recommendations for other, PS-oxford–like shirts? Also, any experience with the brand Ledbury? I find their shirts are quite good largely because of the collars, which I find work really well without a tie.

John

Anglo-Italian oxfords also have a tall color and substantial roll. Their shirts are very good for RTW, in terms of quality and fit (at least for me).

Nick

Great post Simon. Quick question:

Who, in your experience, have been the best tailors when it comes to recommending appropriate collar shape and size?

More generally speaking, have you noticed whether english, napeolitan or parisian tailors were better at suggesting the best collar shapes for your neck and face?

With your experience do you tend to request what you want or do you still trust your tailors to come up with the best collar that’ll fit you?

Charles

Your comment about the one-piece collar where the inside of the placket and the top collar are cut from one piece might be called a ” holiday” collar. However it is also known as a paramontura collar – an Italian tailoring term for jacket lapels adopted for shirts.
It sits very well with no tie with and without jacket and is perhaps the signature style of Luca Faloni with whom I have no relationship other then customer.

DB

Thanks for this, Simon. It’s a helpful guide. I had two questions:

1. Would you make any adjustments to the construction of a shirt that you know you will wear primarily (or even exclusively) with a tie? Or would you go with the same lightly fused lining?

2. I wonder whether the size of one’s body more generally (in addition to the size and shape of the neck and face) would influence your advice. Like you, I have a fairly long and thin neck. But I’m several inches shorter, with a generally slight frame. I find that a larger collar can start to look over-sized. (Incidentally, I’m always surprised by how even relatively small differences — say a half cm increase in collar length — can create a noticeably different impression.)

Chancellor

Curious what the benefit of a floating lining would be for a shirt worn with a tie?

I assume the heavier fusing might be desirable to produce a collar that’s less likely to have an y wrinkles (already very unlikely) and generally be stiffer and more structured to go with the formality?

Chancellor

Thanks. That’s helpful.

Felix

Great article, which verbalizes a lot of what I have always unconsciously felt about the look of certain collar combinations. I fully agree with all your points, except maybe the tab collar. I think it still has a place for one category of outfits, which is festive evening events that don’t warrant black tie (and it maybe works for super-senior business executives in conservative industries). I also think it looks good with morning dress.

george rau

I think getting the button down collar right is one of the more difficult problems. I’am an American and have seen a ton of ugly button down collars. I still have 2 unlined Brooks brothers from way back. They do have a sort of casual look that fused collars can’t usually match. the proper length on these seems to be 3.5 inches or 3.625 inches. The problem with having these made by some shirtmakers I have used is changing the spread changes them . Too wide a spread and you lose some of the roll. The Zegna’s and Brioni’s are all over the board in roll and spread. I have yet to be satisfied with any MTM collars I have had made. This is a problem

Ben

Once you really start to look at collars in detail , problems appear especially on poorly made RTW. At the centre back neck , the vertical measurement of height of the collar band is called the Stand in classic tailoring terms and the height of the actual collar at that point is called the Fall. Normally a good maker will have about a +1cm or less difference (depends on the thickness of the fabric and how it folds) between the Stand and the Fall so that the Fall completely covers the Stand when folded. Badly cut RTW often uses +1.5cm or more with the result in either the collar sitting badly on the shoulder or the folding point having to be moved too far above the top of the Fall. Anyway apologies if I’m boring the reader and probably time to “get my coat” as they say.

Ben

The spread of the collar is not fundamental. Rather, it’s dictated by, as Simon points out, the height of the collar but also simply its size and the fact that non-button-down collars (and even most button-down collars) look better if the point is tucked into the jacket.

Size here refers simply to the amount of visible fabric. The size of the collar should be proportional to that of the wearer’s head. In order for a point collar to be tucked under a jacket, the collar must necessarily be larger than a spread collar. Since Simon’s head is smaller than average, a spread collar works better for him than a pointed one. Since the height of the collar also determines its size, someone with a shorter neck can get away with a more pointed collar than someone with a longer neck, even if their heads are the same size and shape.

Without a jacket (i.e. without the need to tuck in the collar), accordingly, the spread of the collar makes no significant difference as long as the size of the collar is the same. A shorter point collar with the same narrow spread would work just as well for Simon without a jacket as his photoed spread collar.

Practically, a moderately spread collar (say, 45 degrees from midline) that tucks under a jacket looks great for the vast majority of people.

Ben

The comments on button down collars have been interesting. In a past life I was responsible for trying to copy the vintage Brooks Brother collar for the UK mid level brands. It’s surprising how important the placement position of the actually buttons and collar button holes are. The buttons have to be in just the right place to help create the roll. Too high/low/left or right and the roll, changes. On the old Brooks Brothers production they used to place the collar button hole to actually cut across the collar’s 1/4″ top stitching. I’ve lost count of the number of shirts I see now where the button hole seems to be almost half way up the collar and no where near the top stitching.

Anonymous

Have you ever considered having the same height of collar in your bottom down shirts made in your normal spread collar?I ask because I like the look of slightly higher collars when wearing a tie or not.

Steve

I think that the button down collar rises to the occasion when compared to other collar types when no tie is worn. With the top two buttons undone on a shirt, the collar tends to flatten out and seems to “take flight” much like the wings of bird. A button down shirt is, in my estimation, a neater and more controlled appearance.

Anonymous

Simon
Do you know of anyone that does good RTW or MTM of soft, unlined collars?

Nick B.

Regarding good RTW button downs, Drake’s makes a lovely collar. Their oxford fabric ages nicely. They can be had MTM too, although I no longer see them mentioning this on the website.

Anonymous

Simon, it would be appreciated if you could list shirt makers that will work with your cloths.

Jonathan

Ah, interesting. I better ask Drake’s whether they still offer this. One day it’d be nice to have their long point button-down in the PS blue striped Oxford.

As a relative newcomer to MTM and bespoke clothing, I always wondered how this works. Presumably a few makers are openly happy to use unfamiliar cloth, many are reluctant but might be cajoled, while the rest simply won’t do it? Am I way off?

Thanks.

Johan

Interesting post. One thing you did not mention, that I have found to be a major deciding factor for me, is the comfort of the collar on your neck. I consider myself having a normal to long neck and a narrow head, so a higher collar looks better but I often find that they rub on the side of my neck and that they restrict my head movement (especially looking up when sitting at a desk). I guess this is not entirely linked to the collar height, it might be down to my posture or my straight shoulders. It would be interesting to read about how a bespoke collar would be designed.

Andrew

Hi Simon,

What are the collar point length and collar band measurements on your PS Oxford and Denim button down collar shirts? I really like the look of their proportions.

Thanks,

Tony Parrack

All really helpful comment but oh God you’re going to hate me: when I’m not wearing a tie to keep the collar in place, I like a little magnet put inside the shirt that ‘attaches’ to a metal collar stiffener. They keep the roll on a collar whether or not I’m wearing a jacket and stop the collar flying off in different directions. I’m not going to ask for your comment, I daren’t, but it suits me and a couple of people have asked me how my collar looks trim, and have taken this appalling habit up.

Ian

I have done this too Tony!
My excuse is that it is a way of getting some use from my less-than-ideal shirts while in the process of improving my wardrobe.
The improvements are taking a while now, though…..

Evatt

Great article, Simon, and lots to take away and think about. One thing you didn’t mention was whether the points of the collar need to be hidden under the lapels of the jacket. This seems to be the case on most well-dressed men that I see. It does, however, mean that the type of jacket worn with a shirt needs to be taken into account and potentially restricts the drop of the collar points. I assume this is why long, narrow spear point collars were popular before the war when jackets had higher buttoning points but later fell out of favour.

Christos Nyflis

Great post once again! Thank you Simon!

zo

camp collars are probably one of my favourite trends to be passing. i take you’re not a fan? never seen you sport one.

Rogey

I see you have recommended Mercer and Sons. I have several of their buttondowns and they are excellent, but anyone ordering from them should know that their shirts tend to run very large in the body. For an upcharge they will tweak the shirt. I am slim, and I get a 15″ body with a 15 1/2″ neck, and that works for me.

James

This has been a very helpful article, and I’m so glad you addressed this. Thank you!

It’s also left me wondering: how much does the type of shirt fabric dictate the formality of the collar? Would you consider some, more refined weaves strictly appropriate to a spread collar or others only a more casual one? Would the same also apply to the type of placket?

James

I suppose I should have referenced that guide first. Yes, of course.

As a follow-up question: in the case of something like a button-down collar, would you say is there a clear line and logic to where it works and doesn’t? Or is it more fluid and perhaps down to the thickness of the fabric? Chambray/Denim/Oxford Variants, for example, seem to be popular as a choice for both BD and spread collars, but other fabrics seem clearly suited to one or the other.

James

That makes sense. Thanks, Simon!

Harvey

Dear Simon
Thank you for your most interesting articles which I like your readers find very fascinating. Which tailors and shirt makers do you recommend in London?
Also which absolutely breathable, summer NON crease suiting material do you recommend. Thank you again. Best Harvey

Mike

This was a good guide for the basics of shirt collars but I think that there will always be a place for the “antiquated” collars you mentioned, such as the tab, the club, the eyelet, and the lesser known “claw” (where there are no points but rather a fastening behind the knot of the tie). As the professional world grows ever-more casual, older styles stand out in a more positive and debonaire manner and show that the individual takes some care in his appearance. A collar pin and fedora will surely make a man look distinguished in a sea of navy suits and open spread collars; the same may be said for cufflinks and contrast collars. Overall, these small details serve to break up the monotony of professional menswear and thus should not be lost to time and leisure.

Anonymous

Hi Simon,
could you give a general classification of collar heights for orientation, i.e. low collar height below X cm, normal collar height in the range of X to Y cm and anything above that tall collars?

And could you make such a classification also for point lengths?

What is your average collar height? What are your lowest and highest collar heights?

Many thanks and keep up the good work.

Anonymous

Maybe you could give me a quick advice on collar height. I’m about 1.86 m tall, have a long neck and collar size 15/15.5 inch. At MTM I was suggested a collar height of 4.8 cm, but since you can rarely try on higher collars I am unsure. The collar height of my RTW shirts so far is between 3.2 and nearly 4 cm and the shirt collars all look too small for me.

How high are your shirt collars typically?

kristoffer

great post! good to hear you point on longer necks. finding rtw sometimes way too short. btw – what is the deal with unbuttoning a button-down shirt?

Jonny

Hi Simon,

I’ve noticed that brands I’m very fond of like Anglo-Italian and Drake’s often have button-down collars on poplin shirts, opposed to more casual fabrics like oxford/linen.

Do you have an opinion on button-down collars on shirts with smoother finishes, and whether you would wear them with a tie – and if so, strictly sport coat only, or would something like a button-down poplin with a suit ever be appropriate?

Marty

Simon,
I wonder if you had an opinion on collars specifically to linen shirts.
I have tried bespoke linen button downs, which are fine, but I sometimes wonder if spread feels more natural with this material- also I have seen collars at drakes in linen which appear to be slightly smaller spread collars (?) which seem more suitable for this cloth?