A Case for the Return of the Tab Collar

Anthony Perkins

Anthony Perkins

A couple weeks back I tossed my ever so brief review of Hollywood and the Ivy Look into this post as an afterthought, but after thumbing through that book countless times since I wrote that piece, I’ve decided that a one sentence blurb hardly does it any justice. The book’s glossy images of icons from the fifties and sixties, some of which have never been published before, are reason enough to pick it up alone, but to me, the book’s real value lies in it’s numerous examples of the well-executed tab collar shirt. Nowadays though, the tab collar has become a nonentity in the arsenal of men’s style.  Yet I’ll admit, in keeping with the natural order of supply and demand, that scarcity has only increased my intrigue, so over the past few months I’ve gone in search of my great white whale – a slim fitting, tab collar oxford. And every time I come up empty handed. Brooks Brothers offers four models but never in the right configuration of fit and fabric, Ralph Lauren only makes one paltry pink version, and with Rugby now falling by the wayside there isn’t one company that seems to excel in the tab collar department.

Walter Matthau

Walter Matthau

So if the tab collar seems to have become this forgotten relic of a time that’s long since passed us by, existing only in the images of Anthony Perkins, Walter Matthau, and Robert Redford wearing them in this book, then why is it worth writing about? The answer lies in the very item that lead to the tab collar’s creation to begin with: the collar pin. Once seen only on the necks of the seventy-year old trads pushing their way up Madison Avenue, or on the mannequins at the Ralph Lauren mansion, lately it seems like the collar pin has leapt back into the menswear stream of conscious  Personally, they aren’t for me, I find there’s something a bit too ostentatious about sticking a metal bar across your neck, so I leave collar pins for the guys that have the pedigree to back it up, such as the legendary Bruce Boyer.

Robert Redford

Robert Redford

The original desired effect of a collar pin is to give your necktie that coveted ideal arch, but contemporarily it seems like people are putting the cart before the horse, wearing a collar pin for the flash first and the arch second. It was the unflappable Duke of Windsor, who must have shared my distate for the collar pin that popularized the tab collar in the twenties and thirties. The tab collar duplicated the effect of the collar pin, to raise up the tie (a look that was actually meant to mirror that of the original detachable shirt collars of the nineteenth century) without having to jab a metal bar through your collar. The tab collar was then passed down from English royalty to American royalty, so to speak, as natty East Coasters adopted the collars. By the mid-century though, most people found them too dandy for daily wear, which explains why it was a book about Hollywood stars, not nine-to-fivers that brought them back onto my radar.

Tab Hunter

Tab Hunter

I fear the collar pin will follow the same route as the tie bar though (if it’s not there already) as one of those classic details suddenly deemed by men’s magazines as a quirky way to set you apart until all we’re left with is a bunch of collar pinned and tie barred clones, paying too much attention to the angle of their respective accessories to realize that their suit doesn’t even fit them to begin with. The tab collar thrives off it’s simplistically, there’s nothing extra you have to buy, no three hundred dollar up charge for a gold plated model from Tiffany’s, it’s simply an additional button that very quietly does the job.  The tab collar packs no frills but it will actually make you look better dressed than some self-proclaimed rake with a safety pin in his collar. In my eyes, pins should be reserved for three things – to either fasten a Scot’s kilt (so to the one-tenth of a percent of my readers in Scotland, there you go), to add a hint of color, along the lines of RTH’s beaded pins, or most importantly to pin an exceptionally gauzy knit tie a la Beppe Modenese. Aside from that, if you find yourself reaching for that collar pin, consider a tab collar first, at the very least you’ll steer clear of looking like some S&M aficionado with separation anxiety.

George C. Scott

George C. Scott

Walter Matthau

Walter Matthau

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3 comments
  1. Colt said:

    I like, and wear, tab collars. Yet, I can’t hear the term and not think of “Maybe I should buy some old tab collars/welcome back to the age of jive.” Damn you Billy Joel.

  2. “A Case for the Return of the Tab Collar
    Wax Wane” was in fact a pretty wonderful post, . Keep publishing and
    I am going to keep reading! Thanks a lot -Alexis

  3. Bradley said:

    I grabbed a (discontinued) Brooks Brother Black Fleece tab collar shirt off eBay recently. If you can tolerate the oxford cotton fabric and the trendily-short collar points it’s pretty cool.

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