X (Not So) Well
X Wimpy Wings
Short attached collars are unflattering to any man but look
particularly bad on men with long necks.
Conversely, even a proper height wing collar tends to
look awkward on men with short necks or chubby faces.
Contemporary Black-Tie Shirts
fronts can be either pleated
or piqué (marcella)
shirt traditionally has
eyelets for studs; some authorities allow for fly-fronts
French cuffs (double cuffs)
Attached Wing-Collar Shirt
When the dinner jacket was
created as an informal substitute for the evening tailcoat it was
worn with the tailcoat’s standard accessories, including the
wing collar shirt.
Then in the 1930s it was given its very own
“semi-formal” shirt with
pleated bosom, French cuffs and an attached turndown
collar. This became the
new standard for black tie and remained that way until the 1970s
when manufacturers introduced a hybrid that altered the standard
shirt’s soft, attached collar from
turndown to wing style.
The intention may have to been to add
an elegant flair but by the end of the decade these attached collars had become
shrunken and flaccid.
Oddly, American men loved them.
By the mid-1980s this style had become the de facto tuxedo
shirt in the U.S. and remained that way until the rise of the
four-in-hand tie in the ‘00s revived the turndown model.
British style authorities,
on the other hand, despise the modern incarnation and expect their
wing collars to be impressively tall and erect (so to speak).
From an aesthetic point of
view, it is not the detachable collar’s physical construction that
makes it formal but its appearance.
Therefore, a modern version must imitate the original’s prime
characteristics: it must be tall enough to properly cover the neck
(almost all the way up to the jaw line), it must be stiff enough
to stand straight up throughout the evening and its tabs must
be sizable enough to not be engulfed by the bow tie.
The latter trait is not an
issue for the modern style of swept wing collar that folds back
almost the entire front of the collar to create two large oblong triangles (see
photo on right).
Although some consider the pleated front to be incompatible with a
wing collar, there are historical precedents for this combination
dating back to Victorian times.
A piqué bosom is also traditional and has the added benefit
of imparting the shirt with a bit of full-dress formality.
Either shirt front can be
unstarched or lightly starched, known in sartorial parlance as
“soft” or “semi-stiff” respectively (honest).
The bow tie loop featured on
the back of premium formal shirts is particularly important when
wearing black tie. While its omission might have a relatively
minor impact on the aesthetics of full dress due to the
white-on-white color scheme of the bow tie and shirt collar, the
sight of a contrasting black band riding high up the neck lends a
distinctly disheveled look to a tuxedo ensemble. A contemporary
variation on the bow tie loop is a full-height hem sewn onto the
rear of the collar that conceals the majority of the tie’s band.
Ever since the 1950s
designers have been experimenting with various ways of decorating
the classic black-tie shirt bosom to provide alternatives to pleats
and piqué. The most (in)famous of these innovations was the
ruffled front that was so popular at weddings in the 1960s and 1970s
but recent efforts have been far more tasteful.
Tucks and plissé are
understated variations of the pleat and therefore true to the
intended spirit of formal attire. Plain fronts, on the other
hand, have to be accessorized with care. Pairing them with
notched-lapel jackets and/or four-in-hand ties will only serve to
downgrade a man’s evening wear to the level of common business
attire. For the same reason, one should also avoid the recent
button-front vogue or at the very least ensure that the buttons are
constructed of pearl and surrounded by an elegantly decorated bosom.
Qualified Alternative: Fly Fronts
Since the 1980s shirts of
both collar types have been appearing increasingly often with fly
fronts (concealed plackets). While this style eliminates the use of
traditional studs, the fact that the buttons are hidden perfectly
complements formal wear’s refined minimalism. The bosom of
these shirts is decorated in any of the styles used by models with
Only the best attached wing-collar shirts have collars as tall as this.
new swept wing collar. Note the absence of
Tucks are pleats that
have the folded edge sewn in place.
Armani formal shirt with plain bosom and fly
Silk-striped formality from Paul Stuart.