No man is an island—and his collar shouldn’t be either. A gentleman’s shirt collar does not exist in isolation. It has the important job of framing your face, which is very handsome to begin with and deserves plenty of attention.
Your collar should never be an afterthought; its shape and size can be the difference between a flattering look and a complete disaster. Not all frames work for all pictures, so why would all collars work for all men? A good collar is impervious to trends and works in harmony with the shape of your face, the knot of your tie, and the width of your jacket lapels. Since these proportions are largely personal, they should be stable from season to season.
The universal issue, however, is that nearly every collar on nearly every shirt you’re buying is too small. It’s too small in relation to your tie knot, and, no offense, it’s too small in relation to your head. That’s why a long-point collar is nearly everyman’s ally. It doesn’t get so long that you wander into Goodfellas territory, but it’s long enough to thin you out and sharpen you up. Folded up in the store, it might look a little disco, but when worn with most tie knots, it’s a winner almost every time. (Just remember that the points of your collar should always extend beyond the bottom of your knot.)
The best way to judge a collar is always in relation to your own proportions. We know Don Draper wore skinny ties and narrow collars, and that certainly worked well for him, but sadly few of us are as thin as Jon Hamm. Fred Astaire, by contrast, was a big fan of the long-point collar; its sharp slopes looked terrific against his angular face. Daniel Craig’s James Bond, meanwhile, always rocked a generous collar, whether a spread collar or a throwback tab collar (whose points are fastened together by a strip of material beneath the tie knot).
Luckily, there are more shirtmakers than ever who are specialising in the well-proportioned collar right now. London’s Budd Shirtmakers are for the man with a discreet English disposition; Naples’s Rubinacci is for the gent who prefers more expressive tailoring; and Paris’s Charvet brings to its collared shirts extraordinary fabrics in soft tones that reveal a continental sophistication (though really can’t go wrong with its classic white shirt). Each fashion house can customise a collar that suits not only your personal style but also your proportions. Just like a great pair of glasses, the right collar can be the hidden-in-plain-sight article that ties everything together.
So, how do you know which style is best for you? Here’s a cheat sheet of our five favourites—and the brands that do them best.
The Spread Collar
Devotees of this modern collar, which walks the middle ground between conservative and casual, are loyal to French shirtmaker Charvet above all others.
The Button-Down Collar
Brooks Brothers practically holds the trademark on this casual but classic mainstay of preppy style, but our favourite version comes from Italy’s Liverano & Liverano.
The Long-Point Collar
Be not afraid of this Wall Street staple: Its elongating effect means it looks terrific on almost everyone. Drake’s does it well in every style, from white cotton to denim.
The Cutaway Collar
A more extreme version of the spread collar, this style “cuts away” from the face at a 45-degree angle. Look to fourth-generation Italian shirtmaker Finamore 1925 for a variety of hand-made options.