no of rhe most important but least understood functions ol male attire is to lead the viewer s eye toward the face. Understanding the subtle balance that should exist between a man's most visible and expressive body part—his face and the clothes that lead up to it is a prerequisite of fine dressing. B\ virtue ol its proximity to the face and its configuration of angle, scale, and mass, no article of male apparel is better equipped to enhance a man's countenance than the appropriately shaped dress shirt collar.
The triangular sector formed below the chin by the ' V" opening of a buttoned suit jacket constitutes the cvnosure of a man's tailored costume. Several dynamics work to direct the viewer s v y focus toward this area. First of all. it is directly under a man s most animated feature, his face. Sec-
j ond, this triangular encasement is accentuated by contrasts between the darker jacket and lighter shirt, silken tie and dulled or matte shirting, etc. Again, keeping in mind that the face is that desti nation where ones dress should be escorting the attention ol the beholder, think of the face as a picture and what surrounds it as the frame.
Whether or not the color or pattern ol a dress shirt coordinates perfectly with an outfit, if its collar is too small, the head will appear large; il the collar sits too low on the neck, it will make the neck look longer than it is. The choice of a dress shirt should be guided first and foremost by the appropriateness of its collar to the wearer's face, rather than the vicissitudes of fashion or personal whim.
Choosing the appropriate shirt collar requires a bit of experimentation and a little common sense. A sma.l picture requires a comparable frame, just as a smaller man with delicate features requires a collar ol more restrained dimensions. Conversely, when the content is more expansive, the Irame must enlarge to afford proper balance without distracting from the intended focal o point. Just as large tabletops beg for ample pedestals, hcavyset or big boned men require more fully proportioned collars. For example, former President Clinton compensates for his larger jaw v\ ith slightly spread collars while balancing his lull face with generously scaled.
The cynosure of the tailored
Founder oj Black Enterprise magazine, Earl Graves employs a long pointed full-scale collar to balance his iionesque visage.
bJackentor!H** .cH long-pointed ones. Both Conan O'Brien and David
Letterman possess pronounced jawlincs and favor dress shirts with larger-proportioned collars on camera.
The length and spread of the collar points should complement the heads contour and size. Long straight- point collars, those 3 inches or more, with little spread between their points, will extend and narrow a wide countenance, just as the broadly spaced points of a spread collar will counterbalance a long and narrow face. Long-necked men require taller collars with wider neckbands that raise the collars height, while short-necked men need lower-sitting collars with a more for ward slope. The tab collar or other pin-affixed collars provide the additional height that can diminish a long neckline. I lie writer Tom Wolfe presents a fairly striking image with his Ichabod Crane height collars, almost Victorian in their stiffness and grandeur, but the\ do camouflage his longer neck.
Collars should also counterbalance the facial structure b\ either softening its dominant lines or strengthening its weak ones. Long-pointed collars that are either pinned or buttoned down will help to countermand faces with angular features and strong lines. A lull face that sags around the chin or cheeks demands a stif ler collar to counter act the effects of age and gravity. While soft button-down collars are classically stylish, they are too often favored by the double-chinned set, who should expressly avoid them in lieu of a slightly firmer collar.
Throughout 1980s and much of the 1990s, in an effort to give men a more casual air. fashion designers unlortunately tried to neutralize the dress shirts traditionally dignified and ordered format. Dress shirr collars were shortened, lowered, and softened to such a degree that their original stylistic precepts were either distorted beyond recognition or lost completely Abbreviated button down collars could no longer roll, shortened straight- point collars lost contact with the shirts chest, and spread collars sat so low on the neck from their diminished collar bands that they were sapped of all their inherent flair.
Small collars make a large head appear larger.
Medium to long straight-point collars will narrow a wide countenance.
Spread collars counter balance a narrow face.
Long necklines require higher-sitting collars.
Other than the Jermyn Street or odd bespoke product, nowadays most men are wearing dress shirts with collars too small for their face that sit too low on their necks. And. with the spread collar s return to the fashion forefront, those men who have adopted the so-called half- or full-Windsor tie knot have succeeded only in exacerbating the problem, as its bulbous mass invariabh iorces the collar s already truncated length points even farther off the shirts chest.
Fortunateh: toward the late 1990s, dress shirt aesthetics began to follow that of suits by returning to their custom-tailored roots. Fueled by an Italian revival of classical elegance and the emergence ol artisan made clothes, high-end menswear stepped into the new millennium on bespoke footing. A plethora of ready made dress shirts are now beginning to feature collars that no longer have to apologize for their style-defining presence.
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