'30s point collar style is making a '90s comeback


Q: I hate button-down collars. They're too Ivy League and casual for my taste. Spread collars are not high on my list, either. Of course, I'm familiar with the basic point collar shirts, because they're about all I wear. But what is this new long, narrow collar I've been seeing in the magazines? Is this considered acceptable?

A: The point collar style you describe began in Hollywood with the well-dressed matinee idols of the 1930s. It has had a recent revival. The shirt has long, soft points (with no collar stays) that are -- or at least appear to be -- closer together at the tips than the standard business shirt collar. Because the space at the top of the collar -- in fashion jargon, the "tie box" -- is also closer together than on a conventional point collar, the shirt requires a small four-in-hand tie knot. There is no room for a Windsor knot or even a half-Windsor. Many men feel the look is too "GoodFellas," too mobster-like. One man described it as "pajamas worn with a tie." But fashion-forward dressers love its novelty and --. Some stores call this new collar "the Gary Cooper." In truth, its pedigree goes back even further -- it was originally known as "the Barrymore" (John, that is).

Several years ago the fashion-forward dresser wore shirts with collars that were much shorter than standard. Perry Ellis made this cut popular. It does not seem to be at all in evidence today.

The traditional straight collar shirt has points that are almost three inches long and about three inches apart at the tips. The most versatile collar, it is worn crisply starched or not, with collar stays or not, with a tie or not. It even works with a bow tie (though daytime bow tie wearers usually choose button-down shirts). Most men wear their point collar shirts unadorned for a not-too-dressy effect; for a sharper, more dapper image, they may add a collar bar or pin.

Despite harking back to an earlier time, today the shirt you described only looks right with the new softer-cut fashion suits. Consistency in dress is important. You cannot put a Brooks Brothers suit on with a long narrow shirt collar and look right. Well-dressed men do not mix and match discordant clothes with totally different styles and spirits.

Q: For years I tended to dress like men in universities. I wore only button-down shirts and sports jackets. When I moved into administration, I found that regular point collar shirts went with the suits that I started wearing. For several years now, I have not been able to find any shirts with collar points that are long enough. Nobody makes them. I'm not the stylish type: tab-collar shirts and collar bars are not for me. They're too Wall Street. I finally just gave up and am back to my rut of wearing nothing but button-downs. Does anyone make a regular shirt with a long-enough collar today?

A: Today the shirt industry seems to be having trouble deciding just where it should be heading. There is usually a correlation between suit lapels, tie widths, and shirt collar points. Traditionally, as the fashion pendulum swings, neckties widen, suit lapels get larger, and shirt collar points lengthen. These occur simultaneously to keep a logical balance and proportion.

But shirts are lagging behind. Over the past few years suit lapels have broadened, something known as the "button stance" has lowered, and ties have gotten steadily wider until today they are about to reach (in fact, the more advanced companies have already reached) widths of four inches. This is proportionally a large leap from the 3 1/4 - and 3 1/2 -inch ties of a few years ago.

Even though ties have widened, collars on normal-priced American shirts have hardly changed. Most American shirt collars are still 2 1/2 or 2 3/4 inches long, which is why you feel they are too short. Some astonishingly high-priced European designers are showing cotton shirts with longer collars at prices ranging from $90 to $185. In the well-priced American market, this is just beginning to happen for next season's clothing. XMI and Burberrys are the first companies that I've heard of.

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