Shirt and Blouse Collars

Your Best First Impression:

Shirt and Blouse Collars

by Alexander S. Kabbaz & Joelle M. Kelly, Master Shirtmakers
Copyright © 2003-2017 AK/JK, All Rights Reserved
That collar you love so much - you know the one I mean. The one you saw on that model in the fashion mag. Wasn't it simply gorgeous? The absolutely perfect design. You couldn't wait to go to the store and get some ... or send the picture to your shirt maker. You're right! It was perfect. Perfect on the svelte 20-something wearing the perfectly coordinated wardrobe with their perfectly done hair and makeup perfectly photographed to ... make you love the collar. Does that in any way, shape, or form mean the style is right for you?

Recently I penned an article which offered an in-depth discussion of the preferred philosophy of a true bespoke artisan. It is time to get down to some specifics in the arena of blouses and shirts. This isn't so much about how perfectly they're made. What's important is whether it's perfect for you! So unless you're that svelte 20-something with your wardrobe consultant at the ready, read on.

The "Correct Collar" Rules - Men:

Here I diverge greatly from the vast majority of common myths. The only hard and fast rule to which I adhere is as follows, and it is more the theory of simple optical illusion than any other. I call it the "Egg on A Pedestal" Rule:

  • If the client in question is corpulent (that's P.C. for overly abundant), a very wide spread collar is unwise. Why? Picture an egg sitting atop a box. The egg will tend to look rounder and more squat than if you had balanced that egg atop a point ... like an inverted ice cream cone. The length of the ice cream cone will increase the perceived height and elongate the appearance of the egg.

Translate egg into a roundish countenance, the box into shoulders, and ice cream cone into a close-point collar ... and you'll understand. The optical perception of elongation provided by a closer-point collar tends to make the rounded face appear thinner. A good guideline to follow. Aside from that there are no strict rules except the obvious opposite circumstance. A close-point collar coupled with an extremely narrow face will accentuate the narrowness - the "Pointy-Headed Geek" look.

Dress Shirt Collars

Range of Collar Spreads

Preference - and work environment - are the key considerations in the arena of collar style.

Collar Style
The first diagram above shows the various ranges of collar spreads. The most appropriate for conservative environments are 2, 3, & 4. Number 1 is the Close Point referred to above. Number 5 begins the Wide Spread category. In the majority of work environments 2, 3, and 4 would be the logical, safe choice.

Collar Details

Kabbaz-Kelly Spread Collar

Collar front height needs be in proportion to neck length. Very long necks can be shortened in appearance by wearing a collar which is higher in the front.
Conversely, shorter necks are lengthened by wearing a collar which is cut low in the front. Height in the rear of the collar must relate to the height of your suit collar. A simple rule-of-thumb is that one-half inch of shirt collar should protrude above the rear suit collar. As an aside, the back of the hair should be trimmed sufficiently in order that it does not cover the back of your shirt collar.

Special Collars

Special Collars

Collar Stitching
Edge-stitched topstitching versus quarter-inch topstitching. Although the quarter-inch is the more traditional, edge-stitching blends into rather than breaking up the flat surface of the collar and cuffs. Therefore, this look tends to be "cleaner" in appearance. Personally, I prefer this clean look.
There are also physical ramifications. The collar stays in a quarter topstitched collar cannot be inserted all the way to the collar point as they can with edge-stitching. Hence, if the collar point presses against your collarbone, it may tend to bend up at the end. Ugh! On the contrary side, there is 1/2" more loose cloth with the edge-stitched style. When ironing this style the tendency for the fabric to bunch up and cause a wrinkle at the edge of collar, cuffs, or center placket is greater. Finally, edge-stitching is harder to sew and therefore generally avoided - or poorly executed - by most makers.

A Collar's Tie-Space
"Tie-Space" is the space made when the collar leaves do not meet at the center front. Quite simply, this is space left by the shirtmaker to make room for the tie knot. Obviously, because the spread of points in a spread collar already leaves adequate space for most tie knots, this is not an issue with spreads. Close point collars, however, either need to be worn with a very narrow tie knot - note the photo of Tom Wolfe - or need to have space where they meet in front. As you can see, the moderately spread Dan Rather collar fits the tie knot adequately.
The Kabbaz-Kelly Collars of Dan Rather and Tom Wolfe
In the first set of diagrams, collars 1 through 6 are all made without tie space. In the Special Collars diagram, the Brooks-type button down, the eyelet, and the tab collars all have about one-half inch of tie-space.
In summation, the biggest constraint regarding men's dress collars is that it is expected they will be worn with a necktie. Men's collars can exhibit none of the spontaneity or variety of business dress acceptable for the distaff. They must be constructed so as to properly accommodate the tie knot. Sorry guys ... point spread, height, and tie space are your basic options. Be jealous. Those are the breaks.
The "Correct Collar" Rules - Women:

"Would that I had the freedom to wear the variety of collar styles women can wear to business", bemoaned Alexander. "Yes", replied Joelle, "that can be arranged ... as soon as you learn to bear children."

The simple fact is that a necktie for a woman isn't only not expected, it is a rarity. The vast majority of women wear their collars open, even with a business suit.

As J.C. Leyendecker drew so beautifully, women can wear most of the same collars as men.
Beautiful J.C.Leyendecker Collars

Just as with men, preference - and work environment - are the key considerations in the arena of collar style. In other words, many fewer rules. Women have a myriad of collar options not available to men. Here are a couple:

The Lapel Collar:
Exceedingly popular, with or without a suit jacket, the Lapel Collar is an ideal frame, not only for the face, but as a transition from bust to face as well.

The key here is button placement. Too high and the lapels do not lay nicely. Too low and the "peek-a-boo" effect distracts the eyes and ruins the look.

The Lapel Collar
The Band Collar
Ideal for a more formal style and perfect for the woman with a longer neck, the Band Collar frames the face as if it were artfully set upon a pedestal.

Adorning a frilly blouse, a band collar can be extremely soft and feminine. By contrast, topping a plainer shirt, the band collar appears bolder and more decisive.
The Band Collar
The "Man-Tailored" Collar

Naturally, almost all of the "men's" collars shown above are equally suitable for women. Although usually worn open, they can also be worn closed with a tie or slim scarf.
In the photo, shown with a suit jacket, is a typical man-tailored collar.
Shorter points are used to remain in proportion to height. Often the woman's version of a man's collar is made softer and tends to lay less flat.
This softness is essential for the next option as a stiff collar is not easily "flippable".

Unavailable to men wearing a tie - but rather attractive when used to frame the face inside usually longer hair - is the option to flip the collar up and wear it in a more casual manner.

Man-Tailored Collar

Man-Tailored Collar with Jacket

Beyond these examples, designing blouses for women gives the creator a much wider range of possibilities. The main reason for this is that accommodating a necktie is optional.

That is not to say long, narrow, pointed pieces of cloth are unattractive. Here, as just one example of the creativity which can be employed without the restriction that the neck button need be closed, is a blouse and scarf combined into one garment.

Thus the range of available collar styles for women is limited only by the imagination of the designer and the suitability for their intended purpose.

Although there are many other collar styles available to the distaff, we have concentrated here on those which are most appropriate for wearing with suits in a business environment.

In future articles we shall illustrate some of the other options such as the shawl collar and collarless blouses with scoop, boat, or v- necks.
Special Design Collar

As always, thank you for reading. We always appreciate your comments so please don't hesitate to write with your thoughts or questions.