Is there a guide to men's collar styles?
May 10, 2004 11:04 AM   Subscribe

Very anal question about men's dress collar styles. [more inside]

My dad insists on wearing absolutely nothing but button down collars. He often has reason to wear business suits for very important business meetings, and even occasional television appearances (he is the CEO of a tech company) and always wears button down shirts. I think that a point collar would look more professional, as it tends to create cleaner lines and a more put-together appearance. I watch CNBC fairly regularly and have noticed that virtually all of the male newscasters wear point collars, with the occasional wide english spread/cutaway collar. Can anyone point me to a detailed guide on the differences between men's collar styles, and how factors such as point length, spread width, and buttons affect how "dressy" a shirt looks, particularly within the context of a suit?
posted by rorycberger to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Dressing the Man: Mastering the Art of Permanent Fashion by Alan Flusser.

Far and away one of the best books on mens fashion that has ever been written. I can't recommend it enough!
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 11:21 AM on May 10, 2004

I do not know the answer to your question. I just wanted to say that my Dad was also a mucky-muck at a tech company and insisted on wearing nothing but button-down collars because he always wore a tie, and because he also used to sail which meant that fly-away collars were no good at all. Apparently, according to some random web page [click cancel a few times to make that login page go away], button-down collars are a holdover from polo and thus have a "preppy" look to them, which would describe my Dad fairly well.
posted by jessamyn at 11:28 AM on May 10, 2004

I can't recommend the Flusser book enough. It's fantastic. It will answer all your questions.

Button-down collars are slightly less formal, which isn't always a bad thing - it's good to look a bit individual. The Book gives invaluable advice on collar selection beyond button down, however, such as the best collar shapes for the corresponding faces.
posted by sohcahtoa at 11:51 AM on May 10, 2004

because he also used to sail which meant that fly-away collars were no good at all.

Is your father aware there is a button-down collard shirt(not sure the term for it) with the button hidden underneath?
posted by thomcatspike at 11:52 AM on May 10, 2004

my comment was directed towards rorycberger with jessamyn's comment as a reference.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:55 AM on May 10, 2004

You are either a button-down collar guy or a regular collar guy, and I would suggest that if you are in doubt, go with a Brooks Brothers button down. You will always look like a winner, and you will win points with the button-down brotherhood, which includes many wealthy and powerful people who can help your career. Never be tempted to buy anything less than Brooks Brothers -- no Lands End, or other catalog product (cut skimpy), no Ralph Lauren (cut gay, and you just don't want that little polo man on your chest), and needless to say nothing else from a department store or lesser men's store (Paul Stuart, of course, is okay). Brooks Brothers' shirts are generously cut, excellently made, on the low expensive side, and will last you forever. A great, great value. If you wear a more expensive button down shirt, you will look like (and be) a sucker, since a Brooks Brothers shirt will carry you to the top, and is perfectly acceptable at the highest levels of business, government and education. However, if you have some grave anatomical problem (big neck, odd torso, long neck, turkey wattle), you will probably want to get a custom-made button down (come to think of it, Brooks Brothers in the larger cities can do this for you, too). The Brooks Brothers shirt has all the advantages of Brooks other great clothing: It is well made, looks great on just about everybody, it is always in good taste, and it allows you to pass as at the very least, upper-middle class. (Of course, you must never buy anything on sale, at Brooks or elsewhere. Shell out for that good bread-and-butter Brooks shirt. And not the pink.)
posted by Faze at 1:28 PM on May 10, 2004

Response by poster: Of course, you must never buy anything on sale, at Brooks or elsewhere.

Umm, why? Brooks Brothers has sales pretty often, and I've gotten a great deal of my shirts from these sales. I love Brooks Brothers as much - if not more than - the next guy, but jeez, do you own stock in them or something? Sales don't always mean you are getting something that's out of style, especially at Brooks Brothers where about 80% of their catalog doesn't change from year to year. I would be willing to concede that you shouldn't shop at the Brooks Brothers outlet stores, as the items there are specifically made for the outlets, and at a lesser quality. This is not true for the sales, where the exact same shirt will cost more/less one day than the next.

As for other people's comments, yes my dad knows about hidden button down shirts, no, he won't wear them. His general logic for button down shirts is that it is his "trademark" style, and if you push him he'll say that without a button it might flap up a bit. Hidden button downs would solve this, but (in my opinion) so would a high-quality point collar shirt that fit well.

In regards to Alan Flusser's book, I actually own that (Xmas gift) but haven't had a chance to read it, as it was too big for me to bring back to school with me. Will definitely be poring over it this summer.
posted by rorycberger at 1:39 PM on May 10, 2004

My clothier in Paris, who I trust for most of my fashion choices, considers a button-down collar to be less "formal" but not to the point where one can not choose to wear it with one's better suits. It is a matter of personal choice but must work with one's tie or one's choice of tie and knot. I've never been told but I would think the cut of the suit is an important factor as well.

My taste tends to button-down collars only on casual shirts; fact is, most days I am wearing a t-shirt and work trousers. When I do dress-up, I want to leave all traces of casual wear behind.
posted by Dick Paris at 2:00 PM on May 10, 2004

Dear God, please ignore everything Faze has said (except the part about never buying Polo, and turn it into "never buy any shirt with any kind of crest on it"). Brooks Brothers is certainly not the end-all-be-all of tailoring, particularly if you want to look like something other than a preppie clone. I can assure you, people who are really at the top wear shirts from the places like Turnbull & Asser, not Brooks Brothers. BB makes decent stuff, but it's a very boring cut. And there's certainly nothing wrong with buying shirts on sale. But, that's a debate for another thread ;).

As for your father's shirt collars- ditch the button-downs, and invest in some packs of collar tabs. They make a world of difference, and an upturned collar corner stands out like plaid on plaid. The exact collar shape is best determined by his face and build.

thomcatspike- I once had a shirt with those hidden button tabs, and buttoning it drove me nuts. Never again!
posted by mkultra at 2:01 PM on May 10, 2004

Response by poster: When you say collar tabs, are you just talking about the plastic ones that typically come with point collar shirts, or the more expensive brass/silver/mother of pearl ones? Is there really a difference?

Also, what brands of shirts would you recommend that are readily available in the SF bay area? Turnbull & Asser only has stores in London and NYC, and their shirts don't seem to be available online.
posted by rorycberger at 3:44 PM on May 10, 2004

I can't recommend Flusser's book enough... even if the man looks horrible in his picture on the back (that man may have the best in tailoring, but he could use a hair cut).

My feeling on button down collars is that they are certainly less formal... and are often worn by men who don't give their wardrobe a second thought, and wear suits begrudgingly. In fact, I really think that the observation regarding button-downs in The Morning New's write-up on Men's Fashion (Dress Shirts) is spot-on — even if the reference to "tabbed" collars is confusing for those of us that refer to the brass stays as "tabs". My suggestion is that if he _must_ go with button-downs, that he find a finer-quality fabric.

As for tabs (stays), I would suggest the brass ones that you can pick up at Nordstrom... they come in a pack featuring several sizes and run about $25 for the pack. Plastic ones are much more flimsy, and won't hold the collar down properly.

As for where to buy: the appendix of the Flusser book lists — city by city — the best places to shop... and there is (of course) a section for the Bay Area.

Online, might I suggest Thomas Pink?
posted by silusGROK at 4:42 PM on May 10, 2004

Brooks Brothers' shirts are generously cut, excellently made, on the low expensive side, and will last you forever.

This is, of course, where my Dad got all his clothes for the 40-someodd years he was at work. My boyfriend is still wearing his hand-me-down khakis from the 1960's. I can testify that they last forever.
posted by jessamyn at 5:18 PM on May 10, 2004

I found my copy of Style and the Man, and here are the stores recommended by Flusser for the Bay Area:
  • Bullock & Jones
    • 340 Post Street
    • (415) 392-4243
    • 0930–1800, M–F; 0930–1730, Sa

  • Buttondown
    • 3415 San Francisco Street
    • (415) 563-1311
    • 1000–1800, M–Sa

  • Cable Car Clothiers
    • 246 Sutter Street
    • (415) 397-4740
    • 0930–1730, M–Sa

  • M.A.C.
    • 1543 Grant Avenue
    • (415) 837-0615
    • 1100–1900, M–Sa; 1200–1700, Su

  • Nordstrom
    • 865 Market Street
    • (415) 243-8500
    • 0930–2100, M–Sa; 1100–1900, Su

  • Wilkes Bashford
    • 375 Sutter Street
    • (415) 986-4380
    • 1000–1800, M–Sa; Open til 2200 on Thursdays.

Jessamyn: I'd be curious whether Brooks maintains such quality construction even today... in a culture that values little in the way of longevity, I'd be surprised if their clientbase demanded such quality.
posted by silusGROK at 5:38 PM on May 10, 2004

I'm recommending Brooks and the button down look because it seemed to me that anyone posing such a question on Ask MeFi was someone in need of guidance at the most basic level, and would probably (like me) be dangerous if let loose amid a lot of choice, especially if many of them were very expensive choices. At Brooks, the choices are pared down, and nearly everything looks good on most people. It's very difficult to go too wrong in a Brooks store (although in the 90s, Brooks did go temporarily insane. Today, fortunately, they're going back to the classic look). As far as I can see, the classic looks at Brooks are made as well as they were when I started shopping there in the early '80s. It's a good safe look, which some may bridle at, but remember: a gentleman never draws attention to himself by his clothes. Your clothes must be perfectly appropriate, but no more than that. You want to shine by your talent, your achievements and your personality, not your clothes.
posted by Faze at 6:44 PM on May 10, 2004

Response by poster: Alright, my initial question has pretty much been answered, and, as i said, I am a fan of Brooks Brothers, but Faze, why can't I shop their sales? Or anyone else's for that matter, as you implied was forbidden?
posted by rorycberger at 7:05 PM on May 10, 2004

Point taken, Faze.

A second nod, though, for Thomas Pink. His styles tend to be much more modern and colorful, but there are more traditional styles to be found as well.

Thanks for the tip on brass stays- I've been using plastic all this time, and they don't last!

One good thing about shirts- they're sized exactly, so a 15 32/33 will fit you anywhere. If you find a brand you like, you should have no problems buying online, or shopping at warehouse-style places. I actually buy a lot of my shirts at Century 21 here in NYC- they carry great brands, cheap, and shirts are always neatly organized by size.
posted by mkultra at 9:28 PM on May 10, 2004

[looks down nose]

Because only the lower classes would shop at a sale.

posted by five fresh fish at 9:31 PM on May 10, 2004

Thomas Pink has already been mentioned, but even better (in my former bf's view) is Charles Tyrwhitt. Fantastic fabrics, great cuts and excellent service without the crazy prices. (Here you can safely buy on sale, they are the exact same items).
posted by dagny at 1:39 AM on May 11, 2004

what thomcatspike said.
i like the ones with the hidden buttons.
posted by juv3nal at 2:15 AM on May 11, 2004

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