Up Close: The Full-Dress Shirt

(The Black Tie Guide)

Just as with their full-dress waistcoat, Brooks Brothers’ full-dress shirt is a wondrous lesson in old school elegance.

First and foremost, it is a collar-less tunic that allows for a tall and rigid detachable collar that frames a man’s face with stately splendour. It also lets the wearer choose from a variety of wing shapes rather than being limited to the single style of an attached wing collar.

Below the collar is a piqué bosom.  This material not only makes the shirt front decorative but also retains the ample amount of stiff starch required to give the impression of a firm, flat torso.  The cuffs are the third visible aspect of a full-dress shirt and are equally distinctive.  They are constructed of the same piqué used for the bosom (and the matching waistcoat and bow tie) and are single-link style that fasten with decorative cufflinks but have a more austere look than folded-back French cuffs. Like the collar and the bib they are also meant to be starched for a crisp appearance.

Unseen by the onlooker are a number of ingenious features for maintaining a meticulous appearance throughout an elegant evening of dining and dancing:

A side vent allows the wearer to slip one hand beneath the shirt to insert the studs without wrinkling the starched bib.

Perpendicular eyelets help ensure the studs remain in place.

A loop beneath the collar on the back of the shirt holds the bow tie band and the waistcoat neckstrap in place so that neither peaks above the tailcoat’s collar.

A tab below the bib buttons to the trouser waist to keep the shirt from pulling up.

The shirt even comes with its own set of instructions to assist with the dressing process.  The most important advice is to insert the waistcoat neckstrap through the back loop and attach the back of the detachable collar before putting on the shirt.  Doing so afterwards would require a Cirque-de-Soleil-like agility that few of us possess.

Fortunately this princely garment does not have to be limited to White Tie affairs.  It is acceptable with Black Tie as long as the rest of the kit is at its most formal.  This means a one-button, peak-lapel jacket with classic evening waistcoat.  Shawl collars and cummerbunds just aren’t going to cut it in this case.

19 Comments

  1. A. R.

    This is the shirt I wear to most semi-formal evening events in the US, excepting, of course, less formal evenings. I tend to wear a turndown collar in the UK though.

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      That sounds wise. From everything I’ve heard the British prefer the wing collar to remain solely in the realm of White Tie.

      Reply
      1. A. R.

        Yes, they tend to view wearing wing collars with Black Tie as something of an affectation. I am rather afraid to think of their opinion of attached wing collars…

        Reply
  2. Marc

    I am considering this shirt or the Charles Tyrwhitt turndown collar marcella shirt for a black-tie event on New Year’s Eve. I have a peak-lapel single-button grosgrain-faced tuxedo, but the only thing holding me back from using this shirt is the visible bow tie band. What are everyone’s thoughts on this? I take it from the picture above that there is no device to hide the band.

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      I presume you’re referring to the front of the band being visible. The back half is hidden by the jacket’s collar provided that the band is held in place by a loop on the back of the shirt (like the one shown on the BB shirt above).

      Reply
      1. Marc

        Yes, I am referring to the front of the band. There is still quite a bit visible before it runs behind the jacket collar (as shown in the picture above). Assuming there are no buckles and strap adjusters visible, I suppose it looks fine.

        Reply
        1. Peter Marshall

          That’s the nature of the wing collar. It’s a matter of personal taste as to whether you consider the look distinguished or discordant.

          Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      Those collars were popular in the Victorian and Edwardian eras but fell out of fashion after World War I. While I don’t feel it would be incorrect to wear them with White Tie today, they would look noticeably old-fashioned and would feel more uncomfortable than the open-throated wing collar.

      Reply
  3. The Shadow

    Would it be gauche to wear a detachable collar marcella dress shirt made of a cotton/poly blend? Or is it absolutely imperative that it be constructed entirely of cotton?

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      A poly/cotton blend might not breath as well or feel as luxurious as 100% cotton but if it looks just as good then there’s no aesthetic reason not to wear one.

      Reply
  4. G P

    For those of you who wear this regularly, how do you have it cleaned? I wouldn’t expect most dry cleaners to be able to starch it properly.

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      DIY instructions for collar starching are available in the Guide’s “Wear & Care” section at http://www.blacktieguide.com/Style_Basics/Basics_Wear.htm.

      Reply
  5. Keith

    I believe that the collar should stand higher above the tie, such that the wings are above, not behind, the tie. Thoughts?

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      Properly sized wings fold down almost to the bottom of the collar. It is therefore not possible to place the bow tie beneath them.

      Reply
  6. A S Moncrieff

    I purchased this shirt about two years ago to supplement an Akco model I purchased from Harrod’s some thirty years ago. All in all, I still prefer the Akco. Although it lacks the side vent for assistance in inserting studs, I much prefer its narrower band. Plus, the collar provided by Brooks Brothers is too shallow for my tastes. I have replaced it with a Grafton from New & Lingwood.

    Reply
  7. Sarah McGinty

    Gentlemen–can you assist me? I have no problems with the starch challenge of the collar (and have been known to starch napkins to the point of verticality) but how to starch just a portion of the shirt…..hmmm?

    Reply
  8. C. Ray

    The collar on BB’s shirt is 1.75″, which is about the same as an old 90’s pique-front, double-cuff Armani I picked up second-hand for considerably less. I thought about sending the shirt back, but in the end opted to do it right and order a 2.25″ high collar from some Brits. I wish BB gave us the option of a low or high collar, they seem pretty simple to manufacture.

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      I did exactly the same thing with the collar for my BB shirt!

      Reply

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