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.