In terms of choosing a shirt for a specific occasion, if you are the bridegroom, a white or light blue shirt would be appropriate, whereas horse races like Epsom or Royal Ascot certainly allow for a little more color. While English haberdashers and shirt makers seem to have the largest selection of colored, morning dress appropriate shirts with a white, attached, semi-spread or wide-spread collar, English legal outfitters will offer colored shirts for detachable collars.
Blue White Striped Winchester Morning Dress Shirt with a Morning Suit
The latter shirt type is usually described as tunic shirt, which is often not quite the correct term, but it is exactly what you are looking for: a colored shirt with detachable collar that is buttoned all the way down in the front. As a side note, real tunic shirts do not button all the way down. Sometimes it is also advertised as a shirt with a collar band. Usually these shirts come with inexpensive plastic collar studs, but you should exchange them with nicer metal ones. The back stud needs to be big enough to accommodate two layers of cloth, while the front needs to fasten four layers (two for the collarband and two for the collar).
The Detachable Stiff Collar
Prince Charles in Blue White Striped Winchester Morning Dress Shirt with Detachable Turndown Collar
A stiff collar is white and made of heavily starched cotton and then polished until it shines – almost like polished wood! With regard to sizing, the collarband needs to be a size smaller than the stiff collar; for example, if you usually wear a size 15 1/2”, your collarband should measure 15” and your stiff collar 15 ½” and so forth.
Sometimes people will recommend that you wear a stiff collar half a size larger than your usual size, i.e. 15 ½ collarband and 16” collar for the prior example. However, I do not think it makes sense to say that someone who usually wears a 15 ½” collar should now wear a 16” one. The additional space will just leave an aesthetically undesirable gap. So, once again, choose your stiff collar in the same size you usually wear, and pick a tunic shirt with a collarband that is one size (half an inch) smaller.
Where to buy shirts for detachable collar, collars and studs?
Stanley Ley, Luke Eyers and New & Lingwood are probably the most well known companies where you can obtain Ready-To-Wear morning shirts for detachable collars. They usually cost about $50 to $75. Otherwise you have to go bespoke, which of course is more costly.
Morning Dress Shirt in Peach with white Contrast Collar, Chamois Yellow Vest & Gloves
These three also offer detachable collars ranging from $10 to $18. They are essentially impossible to clean on your own, and so you must either send them to Barker in England or buy new ones. While this process can be rather costly and complicated, you will achieve a great look and the effort is worth it for the few occasions in which you will wear a morning coat. Do not plan to store unused collars for more than a year; they will turn yellow eventually. So, only buy as many as you need at a time.
Up until several years ago, Frederick Theak in England was the number one producer of stiff collars. They had the heritage machinery required to produce top notch, quality stiff collars. When they went out of business, they sold their equipment and the Barker Group obtained several of them. The final process of shaping the collars is achieved on a vintage cylindrical machine which is more than 100 years old. It seems that only Barker has these unique machines today.
Detachable Wing Collar for Morning Dress Shirt – 2.5 Inches High
The Detachable Collar
Of course, the collarless tunic shirt for morning dress requires a collar – the detachable collar. They are difficult to maintain and not easy to put on, so the detachable collar is only worn by very few men, and they are certainly reserved for special occasions. Prince Charles is a perfect example; he wears his morning coat with a light blue shirt and a stiff semi-spread, white detachable collar.
The History of The Detachable Collar
Winchester Shirt with White Wing Collar and Lipton Bow Tie
You may remember the old television commercial that shows a women yelling – “ring around the collar” – in which she uses detergent to wash out the grime from her husband’s shirt and collar. ‘Ring around the collar’ isn’t not just a Madison Avenue executive’s clever attempt to sell washing detergent. It’s a centuries old problem that is far from solved.
Almost 200 years ago, an American woman set out to do something about this problem. She certainly did not start out intending to create a whole new industry.
Hannah Lord was the daughter of William A. Lord, a Revolutionary War officer and author of Lord’s Military Tactics. She married Orlando Montague, a shoe maker. Mrs. Montague grew tired of washing her husband’s shirts when only the collars were dirty. One day, she decided to snip off a collar, wash it, and sew it back on. Mr. Montague, it’s written, agreed to the experiment, and in 1827, the first detachable collar was made at their home. A local shop owner was soon rushed with orders, and his wife and daughter immediately began manufacturing them by hand. This first version of the collar was tied around the neck, earning the name “string collar.” They retailed for 25 cents apiece. Evenutally, they became so popular that the shop owner, Mr. Brown, expanded production, and even Mr. Montague, the first wearer, set up his own collar factory. The Montague & Granger collar factory improved on the string collar, and they eventually developed the “Bishop” collar, an upright modification of the turn down collar. Aside from collars, they manufactured “dickeys” (detached shirt fronts), and detachable cuffs. Mrs. Montague’s desire to make shirt collars easier to wash soon inspired other innovations, such as button fastenings to eliminate the gap between the shirt and collar, in addition to a variety of new collar designs.
Tunic Shirt for Detachable Collar with Red Bengal Stripes
By the late 1880´s, detachable collars were being manufactured around the nation, and laundries sprang up to service the new industry. Wearing a detached white collar gave rise to a new working social class, the “white collar” worker who differentiated themselves from the no or “blue” collar factory worker.
By the 1970´s, most collar companies had gone out of business.
The Detachable Collar Today
Today, you will rarely see men with detachable anymore. Not only are they difficult to find, wash, and wear, they look undeniably antiquated, which will pull your ensemble closer to the costume end of the clothing spectrum than other classic looks. However, if you want to wear an ascot or a cravat in the traditional way, you should wear a shirt with a stiff or a wing collar.
Despite the fact that the detachable collar was a time, energy, and money saving innovation when it was invented, wearing one today requires a lot of work.
Collar Stud on Detachable Collar
First of all, you need to obtain collar buttons in two different sizes; the back button must be thick enough for 2 layers of fabric (collarband and collar) and the front button must accommodate 4 layers (2 collarband and 2 collar). While the back one is easy to button, the front one can be a little more difficult.
Light Blue Shirt with Contrasting Collar, Buff Waistcoat & Chamois Yellow Gloves
Secondly, collars are very difficult to clean, and only very few specialty dry cleaners can reach a satisfactory result. If you’re an enthusiast, you may consider skipping the hassle of cleaning altogether and buying a new one for each event instead.
Some traditionalists claim that despite the challenges, stiff detachable collars are nevertheless the only appropriate collars for a morning coat ensemble. Admittedly, the polished shine of a crisp, white detachable collar is hard to imitate, though this feature is not an absolute necessity in this day and age. If you truly want to get something special and if you do not mind to work involved, you should definitely opt for a detachable collar. Otherwise, a regular turndown collar should be just fine, especially if you opt for a winchester shirt with a contrasting white collar.