Formal Facts: Piqué
There are numerous types of piqué
weaves including waffle (small squares), honeycomb and
birdseye (small diamonds). Birdseye is also often known
as marcella and is the most popular style for formal
shirts. The finer the weave of the piqué, the more elegant the
Well Suited: Collar Studs
Front and back collar studs (left and
Unless you are highly dexterous or
employ a personal valet, it
is much easier to attach the back of the collar to the shirt before
putting on the shirt.
► Boiled Shirt in Detail
Vintage Shirts page for extensive
details on the classic full-dress shirt, aka boiled
shirt, including information on back-closing models,
detachable cuffs and the detachable bosom (better known as
Next to the tailcoat, the full-dress shirt is arguably the most
important aspect of white tie's regal
bearing. Discovering the exquisite details of this aristocratic
garment transports a man back to a romantic era of unsurpassed
refinement and at the same time instills
dismay at the proletarian substitute so ubiquitous today.
The shirt body is made of broadcloth or a very
lightweight fabric such as voile which will
help the wearer to stay
It is constructed in a collarless “tunic” style to
accommodate the requisite detachable collar which, along with the
bosom and sleeve cuffs, are the only portions presented to admiring
The classic full-dress shirt commands a
military-like formality with a stiff and simple bosom made from
plain linen, plain cotton or cotton piqué (typically marcella in the
UK). This bib-shaped
thick layer of fabric is heavily starched to give all men the
appearance of a firm, flat torso, regardless of their actual
physique. In order to
prevent the cardboard-stiff shirtfront from billowing out like a
sail when the wearer sits down and the excess material has nowhere
else to go, the properly tailored bosom will end just above the
trouser waist and just inside the suspenders. The front
traditionally takes one or two (visible) studs depending on the
wearer’s height (a single stud adds the illusion of stature) or his
The collar of the full-dress shirt is
distinguished not just by its folded wings but also by its height.
Originally, these detachable collars stood nearly as high as the
wearer's jaw line and even today they should extend at least three
quarters of an inch above the coat collar. Combined with the
heavily starched fabric and the broad wings that helped keep the bow
tie perfectly in place, the resulting effect “framed all men’s faces
in regal splendor” to quote classic couturier Alan Flusser. While such collars
are difficult to find today they remain the epitome of formality.
Detachable collars are fastened to the tunic
shirt with a shorter stud at the back of the collar and a longer one
in front that can accommodate the overlap of fabric at the throat.
Because of the shirt design, only the front stud touches the neck.
Therefore, the flat back of this stud should be of bone or
mother-of-pearl as metal may leave a mark on the skin.
The extended portion of the stud is usually brass but is not
seen as it is covered by either the bow tie at the front of the
collar or by the bow tie band at the back.
This most formal style of shirt takes stiff
barrel cuffs (single cuffs in UK) which
are intended to extend further beyond the coat sleeve than do the softer French-style double cuffs
with a dinner jacket.
Although they are not folded back, these cuffs are still fastened
with links instead of buttons.
They are made of plain linen or cotton or they can be in
piqué to match the shirt’s bosom.
It is a little known fact today that when a bow
tie is worn with a wing collar shirt its band should never be seen
above the coat's collar. Consequently, a finely tailored
formal shirt will have a loop stitched immediately below the collar
for the specific purpose of keeping the bow tie’s band – and the
backless waistcoat’s neck strap – discreetly tucked away under the
jacket. Less diligent
manufacturers will omit the loop to save costs but this can be
easily remedied by a trip to the tailor.
Quality formal shirts will also feature a tab
that attaches to the inside of the trouser waistband in order to
keep the shirt from riding up over the course of an evening.
Like all working details of a formal ensemble this tab is
hidden – in this case by the waistcoat.
There are no pockets on formal shirts as they are not considered
dressy and would interfere with the reinforced bosom.
Attached Wing-Collar Shirt
The practice of wearing wing-collared shirts
declined dramatically after the 1930s introduction of the formal
turndown shirt for the dinner jacket and the dinner jacket’s
subsequent replacement of the tailcoat as standard evening wear.
As the wing collar’s popularity declined, the
number of dry-cleaners able to properly wash and starch them also
dwindled. In response,
shirt manufacturers began to attach the wing collar to their
full-dress shirts in the 1960s.
This new style took off in the seventies and eighties and has
become the norm for wing collars.
Consequently, men who are unwilling to seek out a
conventional detachable collar shirt should look for a
contemporary collar that at least resembles the classic archetype as much as
possible. In other
words, it should be taller than the one and a half inches that is
typical for regular shirt collars, should feature pronounced
wings instead of the paltry tabs that are so common now and should have a fused construction so that it remains as stiff
possible during wearing.
All other details are the same as the classic
shirt including the stiffness and minimal decoration of the bosom;
soft pleated fronts
are strictly for black tie.
Brooks Brothers full-dress shirt with piqué bosom
and piqué single-link cuffs.
This 2 1/4" tall collar is perfect for the long
neck of the model in the photos below.
A bow tie and waistcoat
neck strap secured by the shirt loop (top) will remain out of sight.
Better formal shirts feature a tab that fastens
to the inside of the trousers to prevent the shirt from riding up.
The majority of attached wing collar shirts
available feature French cuffs which makes them inappropriate for