The gentlemen's collar: from status symbol to fashion asset

After more than 600 years of changing fashion, men are finally realizing that the collar styles they choose affect their looks. The collar first appeared around 1300 as a simple piece of cloth attached to the neck opening of a shirt. By the 18th century, it had become a mark of class distinction: The stiffer the collar, the less work one could do - therefore, the more of a ''gentleman'' one was thought to be. It wasn't until World War I, when young men discovered the soft attached collar of the doughboy's uniform, that today's comfortable collar was here to stay.

Since then, men have had to choose from a variety of collar styles: straight, button-down, pinned, and spread.

When buying a dress shirt, remember that short collars and narrow spreads (the distance between the tips of the two collar points) generally look better on slender faces. Longer collars and spreads complement broad faces.

A low collar band will make the collar sit lower on the neck, making the wearer appear taller and thinner. For a long neck, a higher-banded collar may be more appropriate. However, some men may wish to emphasize certain features - for example, a long collar to highlight a long, aristocratic face.

The straight collar is the standard. Spread collars, like those Prince Charles often wears, are very popular now. White contrast collars, which look clean and crisp, are a dressy touch, while button-downs remain a traditional favorite.

The pinned collar, which is very dressy, showcases neckwear beautifully.

While the styles and selections of dress-shirt collars have changed considerably since the first soft collar of World War I, the collar remains the most conspicuous part of any shirt.

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