What's in a Name?:
"Wing Collar" / "Wing Tip"
Despite what some mainstream formalwear
retailers advertise, wing tips are for shoes.
Shirts, on the other hand, have wing collars.
Buttoned plain-front black-tie shirts have also
been around for a long time.
A 1948 etiquette book reported that this least formal
style of shirt was actually the most popular (but required pearl
Well Suited: Voile Shirts
The visible features of a voile formal shirt
– bib, collar and cuffs – are made of a thicker material than
the sheer body which provides maximum comfort beneath a dinner
Classic Black-Tie Shirts
A Tale of Two Collars
Once upon a time the dinner
jacket was born as the informal offspring of the majestic tailcoat
and had no accessories to call its own.
For many years it
the stiff-front wing-collar shirt from its full-dress
parent. Then the jacket
came of age in the glorious sartorial days of the 1930s with a
unique dress code that included a soft-front shirt with a turndown
collar. This soon became
the standard black-tie shirt and remained so until a very dark time
known as the seventies when an evil imposter appeared.
The Full-Dress Original
With its tall, starched wing
collar and stiff, plain bosom, this classic shirt radiates the
elegance and gentility of a nobler era and imbues the most ordinary
of men with an aristocratic air. Complete details of this princely garment can be found in the
White Tie section.
Despite being rarely seen
with black tie since the 1940s, some sartorial
authorities such as Alan Flusser and Nicholas Antongiavanni advise
that this option remains perfectly acceptable today,
although it should be limited to the very formal single-breasted
Other pundits argue that the
wing collar should remain the domain of white tie
for aesthetic reasons.
Etiquette maven Miss Manners is one of those who feel that while the
bow tie’s uncovered band is fine in a white-on-white scheme,
“gentlemen with their black ties exposed all around their necks look
silly.” Canadian style guru Russell Smith agrees, finding the
visible metal clasp of the tie band to be particularly unattractive.
He also notes the fact that “the wing collar’s height pushes against
a double chin and makes a full-faced or overweight man look
constrained and puffy.”
The Modern Reinvention
In the 1960s American
manufacturers created the attached collar version of the wing-collar
shirt. At first it
maintained the traits of the original but by the late 1970s it was
featuring soft pleated fronts with miniscule wings.
This modern and much maligned incarnation is described
in depth in the
Contemporary Black Tie section.
Popularized in the early
1930s by the future Duke of Windsor, turndown-collar dinner shirts
offered a more comfortable and practical alternative to the
cardboard-stiff full-dress model in that they were softer, did not
require extensive starching and laundering and could be buttoned in
front instead of in the back. Initially considered too
informal for any occasion outside of summer, they soon became the
black-tie shirt of choice following the war.
The body of a soft evening
shirt is typically constructed of a thin fabric that provides maximum
breathability such as fine broadcloth, poplin, batiste or voile.
The turndown collar can either be spread or semi-spread as
shown in the pictures to the right. The
spread version is more formal and because its tips are hidden under
the jacket lapels it is well suited for the streamlined shawl-collar.
The sleeves of soft-front shirts always carry French cuffs (double
cuffs in the UK).
The final visible portion of
the shirt, the bosom, is a bib-shaped or vertically rectangular double layer of fabric unique
to formal shirts. The
bosom is traditionally decorated with pleats or piqué.
For the first option, wide or “box” pleats were the most
common style during the 1930s but the narrow pleats that are so popular
today have been around since the 1940s.
A dressier alternative was devised by London shirtmakers of
the 1930s who decorated the bosom, cuffs and collars with the piqué
normally associated with the full-dress shirt. This
combination is commonly known as a marcella shirt after the British
term for the birdseye pattern that is used in the piqué.
Black-tie shirts are
traditionally closed with two to three studs depending on the
wearer’s height although it should be noted that some classic
etiquette authorities limited studs to stiff-front shirts only and
prescribed pearl buttons for soft-front models instead.
Bosoms can be unstarched (“soft-front”) or lightly starched
(“semi-stiff”). In the
latter case, the bib should end above the waistline to prevent it
from billowing out when the wearer sits down.
And to keep either type of shirt front from pulling out of
the trousers when the wearer stands up, higher-end models will have
a tab that attaches to a button on the inside of the trouser
waistband. Like the bottom of the shirt’s bib, the tab is
hidden by the formal waist covering.
There are no pockets on formal shirts as they are not considered
dressy and would interfere with the reinforced bosom.
shirt is the only classic style of wing collar.
Attached collar versions are modern inventions.
pleat with spread collar.
pleat with semi-spread collar.
Trouser tab on a Brooks Brothers full-dress shirt.