Shirt Collars 101

In this article:

  • How to determine your collar size.
  • Collar styles explained.
  • Which collars will complement you and your look.

What’s In a Shirt Collar?

Should you care about the type of collar on your shirts? Maybe not. But knowing a thing or two about shirt collar choices could make the difference between looking dressed and looking Sharp. What’s the story with collars? Many tailors describe cuffs and collars as the finest details of any man’s shirt. In fact, the quality of a shirt is often determined by these features. Cuffs and collars also define the formality of the shirt. For example, the stiffer (or more heavily starched) the collar, the more formal the shirt appears. Moreover, the cleaner and more groomed the collar of your shirt, the cleaner and the more groomed you appear.

Determining Collar Quality and Size

A well-made collar must sit evenly on the neck, creating a frame for your face. If the collar folds over, as most western-style collars do (as opposed to the so-called “Mandarin Collar”), the inside of the fold should be stitched or double-stitched with additional fabric on the part of the shirt that touches the neck. This gives the collar “body,” or a good shape, and prevents visible perspiration marks.

What is your ideal collar size? One that doesn’t choke, of course. To translate this to a number, take a tape measure and measure the circumference of your neck just below your Adam’s Apple. Insert your fattest finger and loosen the tape measure to accommodate it comfortably, but not loosely. This is your final collar measurement, and in the U.S., also your shirt size.

Types of Collars

Despite so many innovative collar styles emerging, most styles are variations on the following traditional models:

The Turndown Collar. This common style is also known as the “Straight-Point Collar” and is widely recognized as the “normal” collar style. It features two sharp points that can be dramatically long or corporate short depending on the fashion.

The Buttondown. Many people mistake the name “button-down shirt” for a description referring to the buttons along the front of the shirt. In fact, this name more accurately describes the style of the collar. The Buttondown is similar to the Turndown, but with buttons on the tips of either point that fasten the collar ends to the shirt beneath. This style was originated by polo players whose dress collars had to be restrained while they rode.

The Tab Collar. This “stubbier” version of the Turndown features a small strip of lining fabric that buttons the two wings of the collar in front. Very preppy. Despite the fact that this style originated among English royalty, it is most often associated with the uniform of American Ivy Leaguers.

The English Spread. The turned-down portion of this collar is of medium width and the points are somewhat flared and characteristically spread apart. This collar was designed to accommodate the full Windsor knot, the big-daddy version of the popular “Half-Windsor” most Americans fight with each morning.

The Club Collar. Also known as the “rounded collar” because of its rounded collar points. Like the Tab Collar, the Club Collar features a shorter, “stubbier” width and frequently has a pinhole on each collar tip. When fastened, this collar is worn heavily starched and high up on the neck, pinned or unpinned. When unstarched, it may be worn unfastened. Either way, you’re bound to look like a prepubescent English schoolboy.

The Mandarin Collar. Traditionally associated with elegant Eastern men’s wear and cousin to the Middle-Eastern “Turkish Collar,” the Mandarin Collar comes up from the collarbone approximately one to two inches without a “turndown” element. May not be worn with a tie. Very elegant when worn with or without a jacket, but may not be appropriate with a Western-style business suit.

Which Collar Is Right For You?

Collars frame your face, and should therefore be used to complement your facial features. Many tailors suggest matching the shape of your face and neck to a certain style of the collar. For example, the SharpMan with a narrow face should opt for a high collar that’s not too wide. On the other hand, another SharpMan with a broad face and thick neck (that’s you, rugby boy) will look best wearing a low collar that exaggerates the length of his neck.

Another consideration is fashion. Plenty of styles may flatter you, but one never looks Sharp showing up to work dressed as The Scarlet Pimpernel. Similarly, even if Gucci’s Spring look features super-elongated collars, perhaps you should stick with a more conventional — and traditional — collar for the office. Be aware of fashion, but ultimately choose a collar that is appropriate for the event for which you dress.