We all know that fashion can be cruel. Its cyclical nature often sees inspirational designs from decades past rear their ugly heads with a bold new print or cumbersome detail with an aim to appeal to an ever changing, ever thirsty fashion market. Rayban Wayfarers in every colour under the sun struggle for space with new/old band t-shirts encrusted with diamanté embellishments; it is easy to get it wrong, and of course we aren’t ones to judge anyone for their sartorial choices. But why does it go wrong? Iconic design is timeless for a reason, that reason being that it fits perfectly with the aesthetic and functionality which the culture of the time calls for. Some classic designs have been the same since their inception and have reappeared decades apart with powerful effect each time. The oxford shirt, the pencil skirt, the tuxedo jacket, the little black dress. All of these summon an image of exactly what they are upon hearing their name. And so today we wanted to have a little conversation about one of our favourite styles from the sartorial history books; one which toes the delicate line between iconic and eyesore, depending who is on the design team. This is the prince of summer cool, the open collar shirt.
Sometimes called the Cuban collar, or loop collar, this design emerged from mid century America and quickly became synonymous with warm weather, comfort and relaxation. It is most often found with a short sleeve (though a long sleeve is not unheard of), and is a boxy design which is square cut and short in the body, not designed to be tucked in. The un-tailored shape allows for ultimate breathability, and the pressed open, short square collar gives the shirt a casualness which undoubtably says ‘I’m off the clock’. For many this design conjures images of rock’n’roll greats like Chuck Berry, Hollywood icons like Cary Grant or James Dean, or legendary jazz clubs in which Miles Davis or Chet Baker might have sweated through their open collar shirts in a smoke filled basement. This shirt can also be found all over the brilliantly styled ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’, directed by Anthony Minghella. Some unfortunately might best recognise this design as a part of the 1980s exaggerated 1950s trend, which saw silks and vibrant colours and prints enter into the mix.
For us, we can break our favourite designs of loop collar shirt into a few simple principles which enable them to reach the ranks of greatness. The first, and most obvious is the fabric choice. This is a summer design and so we love a nice lightweight cotton, linen or chambray. Not only does this allow for a superior comfort level, but also allows the shirt to hang effortlessly on your body, without any rigidity. There is no better felling on a hot day than throwing on a well worn linen shirt, well maybe there are, but it’s one of the best. The original shape has stood the test of time and it is this iconic vintage silhouette which we go for every time. A simple boxy shape allows the design to speak for itself, while a tapered option would simply detract from the purpose of the original design. A brilliant open collar shirt should let your body breath if you are lucky enough to find yourself in a heat wave.
Then we have to consider the colour, and for this we have to quickly explain the link between open collar and Hawaiian. In fact, they are often one and the same, with many early Hawaiian models using this open collar design to emphasis the difference in purpose of shirts worn at work, and those worn on holiday. Though not all Hawaiian shirts have an open collar, they do all have an eye catching patterned motif, and it is that pattern which gives the shirt its power, not, I would argue, the colour. The best Hawaiians have intricate detailing matched with colours which subtly blend and captivate, without drawing attention. Often we might find a Hawaiian which pairs a bold tropical print with bright colours and the result is overpowering. As they say, less is more and more is less. Our non Hawaiian open collar shirts follow the same rules when it comes to to colour choice. These shirts really shine in muted tones and earthy colours. The simple design of the shirt lends itself brilliantly to understated colours, and some of our favourite options this year come in faded greens, beige, and rinsed blues both dark and light.
And lastly, pocket or no pocket? Traditionally, plain shirt options will feature a single chest pocket on the left hand side. This added detail more than makes up for any nuances which a pattern gives a shirt, and often the two aren’t combined, instead those with a pattern tend to go without a pocket in order to let the print speak for itself. Others might feature mid-century style embroidery, a style which gradually evolved into the more garish oversized bowling shirts of American bowling leagues. These embroideries are often simple so as to not overpower, but are interesting enough to add an eye catching pop of detail and a taste of luxury.
So we’ve collected a small range of some of our favourite open collar shirts from some of the best brands out there, and we are passing their simple beauty on to you. Our Hawaiian options come from veteran designers of quality garments, Pendleton, and England’s own Universal Works. We also have three linen options from Universal Works in white, navy, and faded green, along with a beautifully soft chambray style from them, and two delicately embroidered options. We are summer ready and we hope you like them as much as we do!