Harry Styles was right about oversized collars
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When I saw Harry Styles strutting the tappeto rosso at the Venice Film Festival in 2022 wearing “that” shirt collar, the first word that leapt to mind was “clown”. There is exaggeration, and then there was what he was sporting: it had completely overpowered an otherwise blameless Gucci outfit. All that was missing were the sasquatch-sized shoes and the spinning bow tie. It was only when runway pictures of this year’s autumn/winter men’s shows started rolling in that I realised how I had underestimated Styles. What I had mistaken for the antics of a clown was in fact the Nostradamus-like prognostication of a true sartorial seer. As far as the eye could see, and wherever it looked, there was a supersized collar.
Dior camped up the hard-boiled turned-up trenchcoat of film noir by adding a leopard-print collar that erupted over the top and spilled lava-like out over the trench’s lapels. At Charles Jeffrey’s Loverboy, a collar was spread so wide that it obscured the generous lapel of a boxy tartan jacket on its way to the models’ armpits. Arguably the most intellectual approach came from Prada, with a cunning take on the detachable spearpoint collar. Executed in café au lait, teal or white against contrasting bodies of Lamborghini green, jewel-like turquoise or Pepto Bismol pink, it was worn either open to the waist or, as a visual jeu d’esprit, layered over shirt and tie.
That very word, “spearpoint”, transported me back to my Zoot-suited teenage self when the nexus of fashion and music was a band called Blue Rondo à La Turk. Blue Rondo’s deathless classic “Me and Mr Sanchez” featured the couplet: “We remember long ago, when folks were really smart/ All the guys had wide ties, and dancing was an art.” The wide ties in question were the hand-painted vintage kipper ties that the band’s frontman, Chris Sullivan, used to bring back from the USA.
“A hand-painted tie looks a lot better with the long point because the illustration comes out from beneath the collar,” says Sullivan, now a lecturer at Central Saint Martins. Although he wears his 100-strong collection of kippers far less frequently now, he continues to champion spearpoint-collared shirts, which he has made for him bespoke by Emma Willis. His words remind me how I used to impale my own spearpoints with a collar pin, so that the tie would blossom, budlike, out of the collar rather than disappear beneath it.
The can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head viral effect of Styles’ “spinnaker” collar was achieved via its jarring incongruity against an otherwise sober blazer. It was more properly a meme than a look. For me, however, a big collar has to be worn in context: it must be symphonic, rather than strive for solo dominance. The best example of a truly homogenous look is that of Alessandro Ristori and his Portofinos. This gifted singer and showman, whom you might have seen perform on the Costa Smeralda, Forte dei Marmi or Annabel’s, is a sort of high-kicking Engelbert Humperdinck meets Elvis, Italian-style: all Cuban heels, flared hipster trousers and fly-away shirt collars. Il look Ristori plays straight into my fondness for the late 1960s and early ’70s, when my life was also changed by the Hammer horror film Dracula AD 1972. This minor masterpiece, in which vampire Johnny Alucard sinks his fangs into the swinging King’s Road scene, opens with the anti-hero wearing a velvet jacket, broad brimmed hat — and frill-fronted shirt with massive stand collar.
Alucard’s wardrobe distils the style of a generation of hippie aesthetes: the Hon Tara Browne, Sir Mark Palmer, Julian Ormsby Gore, actor James Fox, antiques dealer Christopher Gibbs and, of course, the late Queen’s cousin Lord Lichfield. This flower-power Wodehouse crowd shopped at Hung On You, Mr Fish, Granny Takes A Trip and Blades. The stiff detachable collars that had given their name to white-collar drudgery were replaced by soft and sumptuous shirts where the collar size was in direct proportion to the wearer’s grooviness. Whether a velvet shirt fastened by laces, a decadent ruffle-front satin or a psychedelic print, there was just one rule: the bigger the collar the better. And to my mind this is a truth that still holds today.
This view was borne out again only recently, by the gift of a patterned shirt from Charvet. With a prescience that I have come to expect, Anne-Marie Colban — who, with her brother, owns Charvet — put on a collar with a 9cm point. This was a carefully calculated geometric question of Euclidean complexity: for the 9cm points to work, they had to finish exactly 7.5cm apart — not only that, but the neck band also had to be 2.9cm high to support a collar that at its narrowest point at the back was 4cm deep.
What excited me most about this shirt, however, was not that it made me feel like Alain Delon circa 1974 but that it is the exact same style worn by the actor Édouard Baer. He is irresistibly French: charm, intellect and wit wrapped up in an artfully tousled package. He gives the impression of having come straight from a long night at Castel’s, tie loosened and shirt collar seemingly awry. But Anne-Marie let me into a secret: Baer likes to wear one point of his collar under his lapel and the other, usually the one on his left, outside.
Imagine: you turn up looking as if you have been attending a seminar in drinking at the Serge Gainsbourg Academy of Decadence, and then you spontaneously embark on an impassioned recitation of Verlaine or Rimbaud. Irresistible — and impossible to imagine anyone carrying this off while wearing a pusillanimous standard shirt collar.
Model, Guo Jike at Elite. Casting, Ricky Michiels. Hair, Roxy Attard using Bobbi Brown at Future Rep. Photographer’s assistant, Emilio Garfath. Stylist’s assistant, Zachary Sunman. Production, Hen House