It seems that gentlemen these days are fond of the tie-with-button-down-collar look, which, I suppose, is a wonderful idea if you really like your collar to poof out, exposing the parts of the tie that wrap around your neck inside the collar. Me, I prefer to restrict the visible parts of my tie to a reasonably competent knot and the wide end, hanging down to the middle of my belt.
OK, let’s start by reviewing the types of collars out there, so that we can all be on the same page. Probably the most common collar is the conservative point collar:
A stylish, formal variation on this collar is the spread collar, which is similar but has a wider gap in the front:
Then there’s the tab collar:
And, finally, there’s the button-down collar:
A tie goes well with any of the first three collars, although, with a tab collar you should take care to keep your knot mid-sized, because otherwise the tie’s knot will squeeze up against the collar itself in a most unattractive manner.
Things only begin to go wrong when you try to wear a tie with the button-down collar. This is a horrible fashion faux pas and will not only make you look funny, it’ll also make me stare ceaselessly at your neck, wondering how you could have ended up in this sad, sad state.
The button-down collar is a casual look, and goes well with khakis or a sportcoat; it should never ever ever ever be work with a tie. According to legend, the button-down collar originated on polo players, who don’t wear ties; they added buttons to the points of their collars to keep said collars from flapping in the wind as they rode. Thus, from its very origin, the button-down collar was not meant to be worn with a tie.
Nor should you say “well, it’s the style these days; denim shorts weren’t meant to be worn about the lower hips, extending to mid-calf, but I don’t hear you complaining about that, Wade, let’s just go with the style of the hour!” First of all, let me say that I haven’t yet had time to complain about the whole phenomenon of jeans shorts on men. Second of all, let’s look at the mechanics of the button-down collar. When properly-starched (and I know you take your nice shirts to the laundry and have them returned with at least medium starch) and -buttoned, your button-down collar will lay nicely against your neck, with only a slight curve that gives a nice line to the top of your shirt. Add a tie under that, however, and you break the elegant curve — your collar has to arch over the tie itself and thus billows out. Further, because the points are affixed to your shirt, they can’t sit nicely around your knot, but instead will often sit so far out (and be so curved) as to let those looking at you see your tie as it wraps around your collar. Why do you want to show people that part of your tie? Let them look instead at that knot you’ve worked so hard to tie correctly. Really, this is the dressed-up guy equivalent of a girl having her thong poke over the back of her low-riding pants, except that I don’t think that girls really have any interest in what the back of a guy’s tie looks like.
So let’s review. If your collar looks like this:
don’t wear a tie. If you’re absolutely out of all other dress shirts, then you can unbutton the collar and wear it with a tie; although the collar will still sit weird, the tie will at least hide the buttons. A better idea is just to save that shirt with the button-down collar for a non-tie casual event. Otherwise, you’re likely to hear me sigh softly with a broken heart as I see you at a formal event wearing a tie with the wrong collar.