Are men’s shirt collars an economic indicator?
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Style watchers are likely to be familiar with that barometer of economic strength known as the hemline index. First observed in 1926 by economist George W Taylor, it contends that the hemlines of women’s dresses rise during a booming economy and fall when stocks decline. The Econometric Institute at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam published a paper in 2010 to show that there was, indeed, a positive correlation among data collected since 1921 but that it lagged behind by approximately three years.
But are men’s wardrobes, as well as women’s, affected by financial fluctuations? From London’s Jermyn Street to the recent menswear collections, designers are deviating from the classic spread collar towards more flamboyant styles – and shirtmakers are attributing this to an improvement in the economy.
“As the economy starts to recover people are able to spend more money on things like shirts,” says Dean Gomilsek-Cole, head of design and product development at Jermyn Street shirtmaker Turnbull & Asser. “What we’ve found is that as people become more affluent they are able to pick and choose collar styles to better match their face. We are definitely seeing a pick-up in styles such as the tab collar – where the typically shorter points are fastened together by a strip of material, or ‘tab’ – and more extreme cutaway collars, where the tips are literally cut away resulting in a very wide spread.”
While there are many nuances of collar geometry, most off-the-peg shirts feature a classic spread for the simple reason that it will suit most face shapes. But looking the same as most people is less appealing when career opportunities pick up.
Recently, we have looked to Bank of England governor Mark Carney for fashion-related guidance (remember that man bag?). Carney, it seems, has a dual mandate: to steer the economy towards better times while looking the business to boot. He invariably wears a (sometimes extreme) cutaway collar, a bold deviation from the traditional spread worn by his predecessor Mervyn King during harder times. It is a style that signals sartorial confidence.
“In a recession we all tend to feel much more inclined to fit in,” says Geoff Quinn, chief executive of TM Lewin, which this month unveiled a new rounded-collar collection. “But as the financial climate improves, sartorial confidence increases. The club collar, which we have just released, originated in the 1850s, when Eton College introduced it into its school dress code but TV shows such as Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men have brought it back into the mainstream. It’s a good example of business wear meets directional fashion, with a respectful nod to British tradition.”
A subtle club collar was also on show in Brioni’s spring/summer collection, where it came accompanied with gold collar bars, while there was nothing subtle about Ralph Lauren’s version in his autumn/winter Purple label – it didn’t frame the face so much as put it on a pedestal. Patrick Grant’s version for E Tautz’s autumn collection featured a much softer rounded tip that complemented his unstructured tailoring.
In short, there’s a suitable variation for anyone who wants to wear a more personal style around their neck. “The club collar seems to be a slightly younger phenomenon but what’s quite interesting is the resurgence of the collar pin and the tie bar along with it,” says Gomilsek-Cole. “The collar pin has the effect of pushing forward your tie knot. It’s a look that’s certainly going to get you noticed.”
At London Collections: Men in January, the collar was a focal point at Richard James, who mixed up narrow points and semi-spreads with a short, stubby button-down. Frederik Willems, head of design at Thomas Pink, says: “This squared-off collar looks great with a very skinny tie and goes hand in hand with tailoring, which tends to be more fashionable in slimmer silhouettes.”
At Bottega Veneta for spring/summer, a more severe cutaway (or should we call it “the Carney”?) was used to excellent effect as a means to add panache to the classic charcoal suit. “You really need to have an angular face to pull off this style,” says Gomilsek-Cole. “It has a low, wide stance so if you’ve got a wide face and neck, it will often exaggerate that. People tend to tie much larger knots to fill the space of a cutaway as that is generally regarded as the rule of thumb, and with the new blends of ties such as silk knits, you can get some really great-looking knots with a double Windsor. But what we’re also witnessing now is a trend towards not filling that tie space, so using a much slimmer knot that exposes more of the collar and tie.” It is a look that Prince Charles has sported at Royal Ascot every year for decades, with an attention to detail that younger generations are borrowing a kind of new dandyism influenced by old sartorial standards.
Whether you prefer the serious business look that an extreme cutaway affords or you want to express a more creative and contrarian side of your personality with the long fang-like collars seen in recent Alexander McQueen and Paul Smith collections, designers are obliging with options. “The area around the neck is prime sartorial real estate,” says Gomilsek-Cole. “Even a small deviation from a standard collar can make an enormous impact.”
You might even help the economy while you’re at it.