Those are some pretty pointy collars. Only Pacino escapes

The range of shirt collars available covers pretty much 180 degrees of a man’s neck. At one extreme there’s the long, very pointy collar that leaves little room for the tie other than a slim sliver of silk – more shadow than ornament.

A collar like this, most famous in my memory for being worn by various players in the film Goodfellas, is designed to fill almost all the space left between the two front pieces of the jacket. No shirt body is exposed, and in that it harks back rather to the formality of detachable collars, where the body would rarely be kept as clean as the collar. It is no coincidence that such is often a contrast collar, with the body of the shirt in a different colour entirely.   

Now rotate the points of that collar back, sweeping up towards the shoulder and eventually pointing backwards, behind a gentleman and away. This collar is the opposite extreme. Favoured in recent years by Ralph Lauren Purple Label amongst others, it has a certain regal air. Though sharing the same sense of drama as its opposite, the ultra-point, this collar seems designed for a man who wishes to appear thrust back, his chin in the air and his chest puffed. Perhaps a mix of military in with the regal. But then royalty’s dress attire was so often his military colours.

This swept-back collar is prominent by its absence. Though little of it is on display, such is the exposure of the collarband and neck of the tie that it has to capture attention. Though some would maintain that a Windsor knot is suited to a collar like this, given the room available for the silk to sport, I maintain that a four-in-hand is the only stylish knot. And the knot makes little difference to the amount of neck of the tie on display, so that is little argument for the Windsor style.

The ultra-point, of course, requires a four-in-hand. And a small, tight one at that.

Halfway in between these two wings of the spectrum lies the perfect right angle. Though perhaps out of fashion today, as men tend towards the swept collar, the right angle (where each side creates a gap of 90 degrees) was long the norm. It suits almost anyone and, as long as it is long enough for its points to stay beneath the jacket’s lapel, is stylish in its anonymity.

But as mentioned, today the fashion is towards the swept-back or Windsor collar. (Also often referred to in the UK as a City collar, after its popularity with those working in finance.) The only right-angled collars one sees are irritatingly tiny; but they perhaps have something in common with Lord Percy Percy in Blackadder II, who was told by Edmund that, proud as he was of his new undersized ruff, he had “the most fashionable brain in London”.

As long as you stay away from the extremes, I say that the biggest factor in what collar will suit you is its length, not its angle. Rather like the collarband on which it sits, the key is to complement the size of your face with a similarly proportioned collar. Those of a large visage and prominent features need a stronger, bigger collar. If your head is small, adjust accordingly. If you have a long head but small features (or a short head and big features) you have to decide which creates the dominant impression.

And learn Percy’s lesson: stay away from the fashionably tiny.