Return of the power shirt


ON Gekko (as played by Michael Douglas), with his braces out and sleeves rolled up as he pretty much devours Wall Street, has become the archetypal image of the contrast collar shirt. A more subtle example, however, might be David Frost, teasing a Watergate admission out of Richard Nixon, sporting a dark blue shirt with a bold white collar and black tie. Steve Buscemi’s gangster Nucky Thompson, in the TV series Boardwalk Empire, is also a fond wearer of white collar/tinted shirt combination.

All indefatigable results-getters, if in very different ways; but the crisp distinction of their shirts seems a part of their charisma and success. Unlike like lunch (to reference Gekko’s most famous line), a contrast collar is not for wimps.

In the era of Boardwalk Empire, of course, the style was a natural elaboration of detachable starch collars, and in the post-war era of sewn-on collars it evolved for similar reasons.

“It was when people would bring their shirts for repair, which often meant replacing the collar,” says Andrew Rowley, manager of Piccadilly Arcade’s eminent bespoke shirtmaker, Budd. “When a collar couldn’t be found in the same material, you’d put a white one on it.”

Thanks in part to Gordon Gekko, the contrast collar became a symbol of the financial world, though in recent times it’s found a more casual place for itself. In the City, though, it’s once more a way of making a stylish statement – without over-making it.

“I think if you don’t feel comfortable with those bold pinstripes you used to wear in your suit, it gives you an option that’s a little different but not too different,” says Rowley. “It shows off a dark tie beautifully too – the colours in the shirt will pick up some elements in the tie, while the white collar contrasts very nicely.”

Edward Smith of shirt company Hawes & Curtis agrees that it suits a particular type of character.

“It’s someone a bit dapper, who likes to add a bit of their own individuality to their look,” he says. “It’s never really been out of fashion, but there’s definitely a younger generation coming through to it now, which is why we’ve extended it into our slimmer fit range which younger professionals also favour.”