By Ryan on May 2nd, 2018
Every so often, I’m reminded that although I like to think that I know quite a bit about menswear, there are still things for me to learn. Case in point: sometime in 2017 I started to notice Tom Ford wearing a metallic-looking bar on his shirt collar than ran under his neck tie. I remembered seeing Daniel Craig as James Bond sport what looked to be the same accessory in some of his recent films. Known to me now, this little accessory is called a collar bar. So, exactly what is a collar bar, or a collar pin or clip, for that matter?
When I was growing up, I owned a couple dress shirts that had a small tab extruding from each side of the shirt collar. One of the two tabs had a button and the general idea was to button the tabs together after I had tied my tie. The result was a slightly arched and elevated knot. I remember thinking that it was a pretty cool look and I’ll always remember the satisfaction in buttoning that tab and thereby giving my tie some personality.
I now know that this specific collar is called a tab collar. Today, the tab collar is very rare. But it’s going for much the same effect as the collar bar — or the close cousins: the collar pin and the collar clip — we’ll get to these in a moment.
But how did all this begin? Why did men feel the need to lift their necktie and tighten their collar up in the first place?
To the best of my knowledge, it was sometime in the early 20th century that the collar bar made its first appearance. Back then, shirt collars were large and a bit unruly and had a tendency to move around a bit. Therefore, a collar bar was invented to do two things:
Basically, it just keeps everything together. One less thing to worry about, right?!
And although the collar bar and its variants have been in the game for some time now, their popularity has come and gone over the years. Although I should note that even when collar bars were popular, they weren’t that popular. They’ve always been a style accessory reserved for the sartorially inclined gentleman.
While they tend to make an appearance in pop culture every now and again (e.g. James Bond, Gordon Gecko, some of the guys on Mad Men, etc.), they have never quite been what I would call mainstream. After all, a collar bar is not casual, nor can it be. The act of tightening the shirt collar and neck tie together is one of formality and attention to detail. So, if you’re going to wear one of these, make sure that the rest of your wardrobe is equally in check.
Have a handle on history? Good. I really believe that by understanding where our menswear traditions come from, we’re better suited to apply them in today’s world and build our own personal brand. That being said, let’s take a close look at each of the three collar accessories: the collar bar, the collar pin, and the collar clip.
The collar bar is what I would call the most austere looking of the three. It will likely carry the most visual weight due to the end pieces on the bar. These are often hexagonal or little cubes. It’s no wonder that the collar bar is often referred to as a little barbell.
Here’s how you wear one: You screw off one end of the bar, feed it through actual holes in your shirt collar (yes, you’ll need a specific type of shirt) designed for this purpose. Then you screw on the end cap and you’re good to go.
Pros: Easy to wear because the feed-thru holes on your shirt guarantee proper placement and you don’t have to poke a hole in your nice shirt as you do with the collar pin.
Cons: You’ll need a specific dress shirt to wear with a collar bar and you won’t want to wear this shirt without a neck tie and bar. [And in case you were wondering, yes, we can make these shirts for you.]
An alternative to the collar bar is the collar pin, and it looks a bit like a large safety pin. True to its name, it will actually puncture your shirt collar. Therefore, after tying your neck tie, you’ll need to choose a good spot on either side of the collar to pin through. This isn’t too complicated so long as you end up with a level looking pin.
The more rounded nature of the collar pin makes for a slightly less dressy aesthetic than the collar bar.
By the way, if you’re worried about poking holes in your favorite shirts, there’s a good chance that after laundering the shirt, these small holes will no longer be noticeable. However, after repeated wearings, I do feel that the collar pin will degrade your shirt collar, so it’s something to keep an eye on.
Here’s what your shirt may look like after laundering:
From a purely economic perspective, it really comes down to how often you think you’ll be wearing a collar pin. If you like the look and you’re wearing it several days a week, then it may be time to invest in a shirt with pre-formed holes and just go the collar bar route.
Pros: You can wear a collar pin on any dress shirt.
Cons: You’re physically puncturing your shirt collar and over time, this will degrade the fabric.
The collar clip is a bit of a compromise between the bar and the pin. From a design perspective, it’s usually not too rounded or too straight. But the big difference is that with the collar clip, you don’t need to puncture — or even pass through — your shirt. Instead, you clip onto it using little alligator-style clips on either end of the device.
But not all collar clips are designed the same. Some clips lack the traction that you need for a full day at the office, and over time, they can “drift.” Similar to a wandering tie bar, you might notice in the mirror one afternoon that your collar clip is far from level. Which, by the way, is an important point to address: a collar bar/pin/clip is a dressy item that elevates your look, but it’s a fine line to walk: when it’s not level, you can go from looking elegant to sloppy in no time at all. So, invest in a good collar clip with a strong grip and you should be in good shape.
Pros: No need to puncture your shirt or to buy one with purpose-drive holes.
Cons: Unlike the collar bar or collar pin, the collar clip is more susceptible to moving around and not staying level.
Since the whole point of wearing a collar bar, or one of the variants, is to bring the collar together, you’ll want to stick with a straight or normal-spread collar. Wide-spread or cutaway collars pretty much defeat the purpose.
Also, since this accessory is dressy, I think it’s best to stick to your go-to business dress shirts. That means that fabrics like strong stripes, and definitely your white or light blue favorites, will look best with any type of collar bar.
Remember, the neck tie is the star player in this arrangement. The bar or clip elevates the knot, thereby giving it a more aesthetically pleasing shape and contour.
Therefore, something like a four-in-hand knot is a safe bet. Larger knots, such as the Windsor, can sometimes look a bit odd protruding outward so much. However, it all depends on the tie material, your personal size and geometry, and your preference. Just make sure that whatever knot you end up wearing with your collar bar/pin/clip that the focus is still on your face and not a knot that looks as if it’s trying to run away from you.
At the risk of being redundant, if you’re going to wear a collar clip, make sure that it doesn’t move around on you throughout the day. And if the collar pin is your preferred pick, check for levelness in the mirror before you walk out the door.
In addition, it’s a good idea to minimize other accessories, such as your tie bar or lapel pins. I think that it’s best to wear only a couple metallic items at a time, as too many can end up looking a bit distracting. Also, work to build a consistent theme with the material — try and match the color of your collar pin to that of your watch or cufflinks. Or, perhaps your belt buckle.
Fortunately, collar bars and the aforementioned variants are relatively inexpensive. While I’m sure that there are custom jewelry makers out there willing to satisfy every metallic menswear accessory desire that you might have, first cut your teeth on the less expensive options. Try The Tie Bar or Amazon, to start.
So, what do you think about this world of collar bars and pins that you may never have known existed? I think these accessories are pretty interesting, personally.
If none of the other guys at work are wearing a collar bar, I hope that you don’t see it as intimidating, but rather as an opportunity to set yourself apart from the crowd. When you wear one, it’s a little like declaring yourself the best dressed guy around, so do so with confidence!