Q And Answer: Contrast Cuffs And Collar

October 13, 2010

Q and Answer: Contrast Cuffs and Collar

Sascha writes to ask: What are your thoughts on contrasting cuffs and collars?  What’s the tradition behind this?

When a shirt wears out, it’s almost always the collar and cuffs that go first.  That’s why men wore detachable collars until sixty years ago or so.  The neck sweat in the collar and the fraying in the cuffs are almost invariably the early signs that a shirt is headed to the trash.

Of course, when the collar and cuffs go, most of the shirt is usually fine.  Even without detachable collars, many fine shirtmakers will replace the collars and cuffs of a shirt so you can get a few years more wear out of it. 

Sometimes the original fabric is available and still matches the body of the shirt, in which case, the collars and cuffs are replaced with identical substitutes.  Sometimes, though, it’s not – or the body of the shirt has faded through washing and no longer matches the brand new fabric.  Then, the shirtmaker will replace the collar and cuffs with the next best thing – plain white.

You can buy this look – associated with the kind of old money that has custom shirts and wears them so long the collar needs replacing – off the rack, as well.  It’s a very bold, very Anglo look, and it’s very commonly associated with Gordon Gekko in Wall Street. 

If you have an English sensibility – sober suits, bold shirts – and a job that calls for formality, contrasting collars and cuffs can look good.  They’re the kind of thing one might wear to deliver Mamet dialogue, if Mamet wrote a play about a trading floor or the back offices of a bank.  If you don’t, though, they can look a bit showy, or at worst, football-color-commentator-y.