February 20, 2013 by Ville Raivio
The rich world of tailored shirts offers an endless array of fabrics, dozens of weaves and a myriad of collars, but only three methods for collar construction. Apart from button-down shirts and some Italian creations, the soft collar is in the minority. This method joins the front and back parts of the collar together without lining or fusing between them. The collar gains its shape from cutting, not from the usual lining materials. If the collar points are attached to buttons, it will usually form a roll when the design and proportions allow. The model can also be left unbuttoned or unironed for a nonchalant look with soft wrinkles. The softest unstructured collars are made from one piece of shirting, with a very thin backing. I’ve owned one of these, and found it impossible to iron. The Italian maker Truzzi had clearly designed it with a louche appearance in mind.
The most common methods for collar construction are fused and unfused. The most obsessed dressers and shirtmakers are locked in an endless battle of words between the merits and failings of both methods, and it seems one has the choose a side over the other. In fused shirts, the lining material is attached with glue and placed between the collar’s front and back parts. Thanks to its fusing, the collar gains a very smooth and clean surface. This method is very common, especially in Italian shirts, with the exception of those favouring extremely soft collars. American shirtmaker Alexander Kabbaz has explained this construction thoroughly elsewhere. In unfused construction, the lining material is not glued in place, but either left free-flowing or sown in place. Shirts with these kinds of collars are harder to iron, as the cloth’s surface wrinkles easily under heat and moisture and has no fusing to keep it in place.
You can find out your shirts collar’s construction by pinching its surface. On fused collars the front piece cannot be lifted upwards from the lining, as the glue keeps it in place. On unfused collars the front is lifted easily, as the lining is not not attached to it. Finally, on soft collars no fusing can be felt as the collar is made up of but two pieces of cloth. All collar constructions have downsides. Soft collars made from thin fabrics are hard to iron, they crease esily and have a casual look. Fused collars can bubble or wrinkle permanently, if the fusing has been done with poor materials. I’ve had this happen to several shirts I’ve owned, including so-called high-end makers, prompting me to only use unfused and soft collars these days. Fused collars are also stiffer and won’t roll neatly. The unfused collar may wrinkle permanently, if its lining material and fabric shrink in different pace. The surface is also harder to iron than on fused shirts.
The decision to opt for one method over the other is left at the reader’s hands, as all three have advantages and pitfalls. Obsessive-compulsive construction comparisons are not even needed, if one is content with the current shirts and couldn’t be bothered. Often the greater impact on the overall look rests on the collar’s cut, not on its construction. Nearly all collars can also be applied to smart occasions with a bit of help from starch, which makes even the droopiest of collars stand up for the occasion.