“The devil is in the details.”
We all know the phrase. But here’s something you might not know – ironically, this phrase is often attributed to an old German proverb which actually translates to: “God is in the details.”
Apparently we missed a little something in translation there – which might be tempting to dismiss as, well, just an interesting detail, because, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really change the point of the idiom (to pay attention to detail), right? And yet… the way one version of this saying puts it suggests that details keep us from making mistakes – while the other says that details are divine. That’s a pretty major difference, wouldn’t you say? Maybe this is more than just a little detail after all (talk about irony).
And that, right there, is men’s fashion. The universe of difference between heaven and hell, stylish and schlubby, urbane and unenlightened… lies in the details. Take something seemingly straightforward, like dress shirts, on which you’ll undoubtedly have noticed many different types of collars – but they all fold down around your tie just the same, what difference does it make?
It makes all the difference, of course. The shirt collar is what creates the angles against the lapels of your jacket, dictates your level of casual or formal, and is essentially the pedestal upon which your face is showcased. As you’ll see, different collar types have dramatically different effects on your overall look.
Perhaps the most traditional shirt collar, if not the most American. Also known as a “straight collar,” it’s marked by a relatively shorter distance between the collar points (compared to, say, a spread collar – which we’ll get into a little later). This results in less of an angle created by the collar flaps, which means a smaller space for the tie knot.
A versatile standard whether worn with or without a tie, the point collar is a classic choice to suit up in, or dress down with a blazer and jeans.
Not all point collars are the exact same – you’ll notice some variances in the height of the collar band. A skinnier collar band is more modern and perceived as less formal, better pairing with skinny ties and narrower lapels – while a taller collar is more traditional and formal (which is why you’ll never see Tom Ford or a sitting president wearing a narrow collar).
What is a Collar Pin?
You’ve probably noticed them in movies and photographs: Men in suits with some sort of decorative metal bar running through their collar. Collar pins achieve a similar effect as a tab collar (see below). Going through both sides of the shirt collar and running behind the tie knot, collar pins pull the edges of the collar towards the knot for a classic, put-together appearance. The collar pin will also elevate the knot, making it more prominent. Some shirts feature collar pin holes, but they are not required. The desired look works best with point collars and not spread collars.
Point Collar Shirt Picks
A preppy old-school twist on the traditional shirt collar, the club collar has rounded edges and can also be worn with or without a tie. These were collars originally worn by students at the exclusive Eton College of Berkshire, England in the 19th century – hence, sometimes known as the “Eton collar,” but now commonly called the “club collar” as it signaled the “special club” membership of Etonians.
The club collar is a sophisticated nod to its collegiate origins and offers a way to stand out while still adhering to a classic look. Want to make a sartorial statement? Join the club!
Club Collar Shirt Picks
Usually found on tuxedo shirts, the tips of these collar points can fold down like wings, unlike the other “turndown” collars on this list. Mostly worn with a bow tie (maybe even a cravat, if you’re feeling extra dandy), the winged collar is heavily starched and very stiff, making it the most formal of collars reserved only for special black tie events or the even more formal “white tie” dress code.
So whatever you do, don’t wear a winged collar to work (unless you’re an umbrella-wielding Batman villain).
Winged Collar Shirt Picks
Button Down Collar
This collar features collar points that are buttoned down to hold it in place, which is why shirts with this type of collar are called “button downs”. This collar has sporty origins, stemming from English polo players who needed a way to keep their pesky collars out of their face while riding on horses (talk about first world problems).
Today, the button down collar has evolved to be extremely accessible and versatile. A more relaxed way to look dapper, the button down boasts a wide breadth of possible smart casual pairings, anywhere from suit jacket to denim jacket.
Look for button downs with a good collar roll – the visually pleasing curve created by the collar flaps, especially when worn with a tie.
Button Down Collar Shirt Picks
- Everlane Japanese Oxford Button Down
- Uniqlo Button Down Oxford
- J.Crew Ludlow Wrinkle Free Shirt
- Gitman Bros (Made in USA)
Sometimes referred to as an “English spread collar,” these collar points sit a bit wider than the standard point collar, and complements many different types of tie knots, but usually goes best with knots that aren’t too small.
It can also be worn sans-tie and works with some smart casual looks – though more traditional versions of the spread collar tend to feature a taller collar band, in which case it’s more formal and conducive to suit and tie. You might come across spread collars with lesser degrees of “spread,” indicated by names like “semi spread” or “small spread.”
Spread Collar Shirt Picks
- Spier & Mackay French Blue End on End spread Collar Shirt
- Amazon House Brand Buttoned Down Spread Collar Shirt
- 1901 from Nordstrom
The cutaway collar features a more severe spread than the spread collar. The liberal angle created by the collar points makes a wider tie knot the more intuitive choice – or you can choose to make a statement with a thinner knot.
Cutaway collars come in a variety of “spreads” as well. A most extreme cutaway collar might have its collar points so far apart it rakishly reveals part of the tie loop.
Cutaway Spread Collar Shirt Picks
- Spier & Mackay Royal Twill
- J.Crew Ludlow Premium Cotton Dress Shirt
- SuitSupply Grey Stripe Slim Fit Shirt
Unlike its more formal counterparts on this list, the camp collar is not structured, and its shirts tend to be short-sleeve, cut looser, and made from softer fabrics. Also known as a “Cuban collar,” with roots in the hot climates of South America and the Caribbean, this comfier, looser collar is a way to stay smart when the mercury rises.
Since this is a more casual shirt meant for summertime, forget the tie and leave the top button undone – no need to get hot under the collar.
Camp Collar Shirt Picks
- Buck Mason Palm Cotton Short Sleeve Vintage Camp Shirt
- Cubavera Art Deco Print Shirt
- 28 Palms Cotton Shirt
This collar’s unique feature is a horizontal button tab connecting the two collar points (and fastening behind the tie), which pops the tie knot into relief and pulls the collar flaps down, more closely wrapping around the tie. This adds a proud flair while making for a tidier, more structured look – no wonder it’s the collar often preferred by James Bond.
Tab Collar Shirt Picks
Also called a “Mandarin collar,” this is a very skinny collar band that doesn’t fold down, so it’s designed to be worn without neckwear. Even though you’re not wearing a tie, you’re still achieving a dressy look with the band collar if the shirt is crisper and more formal. Wear it with a blazer for an alternative take on smart casual. You might also see a band collar on looser, more casual shirts, allowing you to lean in even more to its effortless, “no collar” look.
Band Collar Shirt Picks
- Club Monaco Band Collar Linen Shirt
- Goodthreads Chambray Band Collar Shirt
- Proper Cloth Linen Dobby Shirt
- Old Navy Band Collar Shirt
Hidden Button Collar
By all appearances a standard point collar – except with a bit of covert functionality: it buttons down behind the tip of the collar such that the buttons are hidden. Wear this like you would the point collar: feel free to dress it up or down, with or without a tie, transitioning it from the office to after hours.
Hidden Button Collar Shirt Picks
Unless you’re a 19th century barrister, chances are you've never worn this shirt collar type. The detachable collar, which first came into existence two centuries ago at a time when fresh, white, rigid collars were favored for daily wear. At the time, shirtmakers began offering a modular collar which – because they detached – could be starched more heavily, then attached to the shirt with studs or buttons. Though somewhat rare, they're still around today, and they come in all types of collars… and now that you’re an expert on them, you’ll know just what you’re looking for.