One of my pet peeves with the average dress shirt is the fused collar. A fused collar is one that undergoes a high heat process that fuses multiple layers of fabric together, producing a collar that looks and feels perpetually starched, whether it’s been ironed or not. It’s fine, and I tolerate it. But I’ve grown to appreciate (and even favor) a non-fused collar. It’s not so stiff looking, lending a more relaxed, confident and cooler nonchalance to an otherwise crisp look.
Dress shirts with non-fused collars gently signal a tinge of “in-the-know” for men of a certain refinement and tend to be quietly priced in the luxury spectrum. The finest shirtmakers in the world, like Turnbull & Asser in London and Charvet in Paris, make their exquisite shirts with non-fused collars. Unfortunately, the most basic (but beautiful) poplin offerings from Turnbull & Asser and Charvet will set you back between $375 and $525 per shirt.
For discerning mortals who don’t have two commas in their checking account, there is a solution.
Japanese shirtmaker Kamakura makes the best shirt in its price range, hands down. My own taste in dress shirts is very simple. A slim-fit poplin or broadcloth, please, in plain white or solid light blue. As for the collar, I like a moderate spread with a reasonably high collar band (around 1.5”, give or take) with collar stitching at about .25” from the collar’s edge. Kamakura has me covered with its spread-collar New York Slim Fit with French cuffs in broadcloth for $79.
And the collar? It’s an elegantly simple construction of two unfused layers – a front and a back, with no stiff inner layer. Just the standard sleeves for collar stays. Perfect. And the fabric? Among the softest cotton I’ve ever worn.
Kamakura has many other configurations, fabrics and fits in its line, including barrel cuffs, wide spread collars and button-downs, reflecting the incredibly popular Ivy League flavor that’s really having a moment with menswear enthusiasts here and in Japan. Beyond shirts, they also have some nice accessories and fabulous ties.
The only drag about Kamakura’s shirts is the limited sizing. In U.S. inch measurements, I’m a 15.5” collar and a 35” sleeve. Kamakura’s nearest available size is a 35.5” sleeve, which means I need to pay extra for shortening the sleeve length. But even after the alteration, the final price for a superlative dress shirt is exponentially less than something from Turnbull or Charvet.
I’m not giving up my fused collar shirts by any means. For men looking for good dress shirts at a reasonable price, Charles Tyrwhitt still has the best deal in town with four shirts for $199. And if Tyrwhitt started making poplin or broadcloth shirts with non-fused collars, they’d only broaden their appeal. The process of fusing has gotten much better over the years, and a fused collar does lend that extra crispness for when the mood strikes, though many dress shirt connoisseurs would argue that non-fused shirt collars are superior. I can say from personal experience that my non-fused collars on my Kamakura shirts hold up better than the fused ones over time.