Easy and Elegant Life

The Search for Everyday Elegance and the Art of Living Well.

The Long and Short of Collars


Cary Grant knew a thing or two about presentation. He carefully calculated his clothing choices to create an unbroken line — an arrow, really — that pointed straight to that face.

But he also had to play down what he perceived to be a very thick and muscular neck acquired through years of acrobatics. That’s why you rarely see him in an open-necked shirt and, then, almost never without a neckerchief. Mr. Grant knew about the magic of proportion in dressing well. And nowhere is it more important to practice that magic than in your choice of collars and the width of the shoulders on your jacket.

Responding to requests from Greg and Anil, today I will attempt to tackle the shirt collar. Here is the Reader’s Digest version.
The Easy and Elegant Life Guide to Choosing a Shirt Collar (Abridged.)

• Long neck = taller collar

• Large head = larger collar

• Small head = smaller collar

• Wide face = longer point collar

• Narrow face = wider spread collar

• Softer features = stiffer collars

• Chiseled features = Hollywood.

So you have the basics, but, like anything, the devil is in the details. In this case, the details are driven by the shape of your face and that in turn should inform your choice of shirt collars, shoulder for a coat, width of lapel and the knot of your tie.

A few more things to remember:
• The points of your collar should touch your shirt. If they hover above it, your collar is the wrong type and/or size.

• Button-down collars should have a soft roll and should not be worn by those gentlemen with softer features (double-chins, sagging cheeks and jowls.) At least not whilst wearing a tie.

• There needs to be tie-space (except with the cutaway and semi-spread collar) in which the tie stands high and proudly.

• Open-necked shirts worn beneath a jacket should not sink below the collar of the jacket; nor should they pop out of the jacket when you turn your head.

• The softer the collar, the less formal the shirt.

• The more open the collar, the more formal it is with the cutaway being one of the most formal shirts.

Playing Against Type
If you are:

The Man with the Oval face, favour the straight point collar and the tab.

The Man with the Square Face, favour the button-down (also called the polo collar), the tab (especially if longer-necked) and the straight point.

The Man with the Chiseled Countenance, favour the tab, the club, the spread (especially if your face tapers to the chin), the button-down and the cut-away. In short, ladies’ choice, everybody dance.

The Man with the Long Face, favour the the spread and the cut-away

Now then, your choices. I hope that the following pictures will give you an idea of what the collar style can do to a face. I have purposefully removed my glasses and pomaded my hair to give you a better idea of the shape of my head. You must experiment and choose which collar suits you best. Remember, choosing only one style is not a bad thing if it frames your face in the best possible way. The width and length of the collar should relate to the width of your lapel and your tie; thinner, thinner, wider, wider, etc. .

As far as I’m concerned, your tie knot is your own. There are some 85 ways to tie a tie. But, certain collars can take larger knots; whereas others require smaller versions. I’ve tried to use the same tie in all the photos in order that pattern and texture not distract you, but the linen got tired of being tied and untied and so I resorted to a silk number for a couple. The light wasn’t ideal and I’ve tried to correct the balances so that the collar is best seen. I’m no professional and that will show in the photos.


The “polo” or button-down. Make sure there is enough material to create a roll. This is the most casual of collars. I believe that it should always take a “four-in-hand” knot, which I favour with almost ever collar. Also great with a bowtie.


The straight point or forward point collar. Which takes the four-in-hand best, but military types who always had this collar when in uniform will insist on a full Windsor knot. Takes a bowtie well.


The tab, which features less spread and a higher stance. Here you have a hybrid which consists of a tab collar and a club collar. It takes the smallest and tightest of knots. Older tab collars and those bespoken will feature two buttonholes that are to be closed with a brass stud, very smart! This, like most nowadays, is closed with a snap. The club is derived from the detachable, high, starched collar worn by Eaton schoolboys. It is best worn pinned, in my opinion, or tabbed like this one. It can take a bowtie, but you risk looking old-fashioned.


The spread collar is possibly the most useful as it comes in many variations from cut-away to medium, which can handle a bowtie if necessary. You may use just about any knot with a spread collar. The Windsor knot was a byproduct of the popularity of the spread collar. I prefer the asymmetry of a half-Windsor or a four-in-hand, double-wrapped to add a little bulk. First the cutaway and then the medium spread with a few knots.





The last question that I had was about the best shirt to wear without a tie. In my opinion it is the shirt that has a higher collarband, stands up well under a jacket, doesn’t get in the way and has a higher second button that is most useful. Given those criteria it is the button-down, the hidden button-down and the cut-away which carry the day. Certain newer styles that feature two buttons at the neck also seem to have been made with taller collar bands to accommodate the extra button and therefore stand up well on their own.

UPDATE: Here is a link that sends you to illustrated collar styles and the faces which suit them best. Or vice versa.

8 thoughts on “The Long and Short of Collars

  1. It’s funny how people see the different knots. I loathe the asymmetry of the four-in-hand and never use it. Then again, I’m, uh, shall we say, vertically challenged, and most modern ties are too long for me to use a four-in-hand and have the tie’s ends land anywhere above my knees, so my personal preference (Windsor) works well with my physical type.

    Anyway, an interesting foray into an important topic.

    So: when are you going to show us how to wear ascots (a la Cary Grant)?

  2. Bravo Chris – I love it. 90% of my collars are medium spread – you make me want to experiment. Thanks for the post, great information.

  3. Johnny, happy to oblige. I gratefully accept suggestions for posts. So, if you’re curious about an issue sartorial, email me. I’ll do my best to do your question justice.

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