The Contrast Collar Dress Shirt: Distinctive By Design

This entry was posted on December 5, 2011 under Dressing Guidelines. Written by:



Contrast collar shirts are a throwback to a century ago, when men’s dress shirts came with detachable collars. Since men were usually squeezed into a vest and high-buttoning jacket for propriety’s sake, the collar was the most visible part of the shirt. With a detachable collar, the young man climbing the ladder could get by with one or two shirts a week, but still have a fresh and clean collar visible.

While certain old-fashioned gentlemen continued to wear detachable collars into the 1930s, in their place at that point were what we now call contrast collar shirts. As was the case 100 years before, the collar (and almost always the cuff) is white, while the shirt can be colored or patterned.

While contrast-collar shirts never went away, they made a brief comeback in the late ‘80s thanks to the movie “Wall Street,” where Gordon Gekko wears them as part of his power look. They’re definitely more formal and elegant, and should be accessorized accordingly: suit instead of sportcoat, lace-ups instead of loafers, and if you really want to go all the way, braces instead of a belt. These shirts also look best with matching white French cuffs.

You’ll be amazed how these shirts — especially if you find one with a rounded club collar, or add a collar pin — completely change the look of even your oldest and simplest suit. Suddenly you’re somewhere between an Old Hollywood screen idol and Master of the Universe.

Forego the tie, however, and the look is rather louche. The image of a contrast collar shirt and no tie conjures up chest hair, a gold necklace, and Hef partying with bunnies in a ‘70s nightclub. On the other hand, a contrast collar in black or blue, worn with a tie, is classic style with a twist, our favorite combination.



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6 Comments to “The Contrast Collar Dress Shirt: Distinctive By Design”

  1. Leonard Hayes says:

    Loved the write up. I’m in my 60′s and enjoyed reading your article. Are the High Boy collars still around? I also remember knitted shirts with high away buttons (Leonardo Strassi, Geno Peioli). I don’t see them any more are they that out of sync with today’s fashiions?

  2. John Jay says:

    I wear those detachable collars in plastic (celluloid), sanforized (permanent-press) cotton and stiff starched linen with colorful or delicately striped banded collar shirts. I never wear a necktie without wearing a white stiff color, and with my experience with them I can offer the following observations.
    Plastic is permanent and, under normal conditions of wear, virtually indestructable. It is the collar to be preferred for daily or casual wear. Its faults are that it becomes less comfortable than cloth after wearing it for an extended period, and that it’s surface is too perfect when closely examined to resemble actual cloth.
    Sanforized (permanent press) collars are the most comfortable to wear, they are easy to clean and press, and most resemble the fabric of the shirt. They also remain the most expensive and most difficult to find in the global marketplace.
    The traditional starched stiff collar has the shortest life-span, and while quite not as expensive as sanforized collars, it requires expert professional cleaning and pressing. Professional cleaners with the ability to care for these collars are very rare and only to be found in one or two of the largest cities of the United States. It is also impossible to wear them in wet weather, as rain will ruin the collar.
    As for banded collar shirts, one need only remove the collar button from the right side of the collar and replace it with a button hole to hold the collar stud. A second hole for the shorter back collar stud can be placed at the middle of the banded collar centered above the back lable, but I prefer to sew a smaller shirt button there instead.
    All of the above could be done with a contrasting folded over cloth collar shirt after one opens the stitching on both sides of the top of the band of the under-collar and removes the folded over piece of the collar. Stitch the top of the opened band closed again, and one has a banded collar shirt at the retail price of an ordinary dress shirt.
    I suggest that one either order a contrasting banded collar shirt or convert another kind of contrasting dress shirt if one is choosing a striped shirt. Sripes on a non-contrasting, non-white band of most dress shirts will be horizontal, and, if and when the collar slips upward and reveals stripes on the band, they will look less appealing in contrast with the vertical striping of the shirt front. This problem will not occur (or be as noticeable) with contrasting solid color shirt with non-contrasting banded collars.

  3. LauraH says:

    Thank you for sharing your thougths with us, John!

  4. LauraH says:

    Thank you for your comments, Leonard! We are glad that you enjoyed this post.

    Though the High Boy collars and knits with high away buttons are all memorable styles, they currently are not often seen. As we all know, fashion is very cyclical and maybe we will someday see these styles become popular once again.

  5. Leon White says:

    I’ve recently lost lots of weight and had to buy new cloths. The sales of high quality clothing and shoes allowed me to purchase and up grade my suits, dress shirts, ties and dress slacks, also added a few pair of cufflinks. I find your articles to be spot-on point giving the meticulous well dressed man the “whats and how to’s” of looking great.

  6. LauraH says:

    Thank you for your wonderful feedback, Leon!

    We are glad that you enjoy our posts and also that we were able to help you rebuild your wardrobe!

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