The proportions of the shirt collar, tie, and lapel converge at an often overlooked and poorly executed intersection of men’s dress. There’s usually a crash of widths, where we see the mismatch of a skinny shirt collar, a wide Windsor knot on a slim tie, and a medium-width jacket lapel, or some similar disconnect.

The key is to coordinate the widths of all three, which should all complement the width of one’s face. As someone with a small(ish) face, I tie a four-in-hand knot on a 3.25” tie under a shirt collar with a 3.25” width – all of which is framed under a jacket with about a 3.25″ – 3.5” lapel. It’s all about proportion.

Though some may feel otherwise, I’m also a fan of a shirt collar geometry where the collar endpoints meet the jacket lapel. This is one of the reasons I wear a semi-spread collar. But that’s probably a toss-up.

To keep things consistent, I found a shirt maker who makes a design that works for me (Proper Cloth), and a suit maker (Suitsupply) whose lapels are consistent with my best width. I haven’t yet, but if ever I buy something from another brand, the widths have to be consistent so I can get optimum wear out of any shirt/jacket/suit combination. And ties? As long as the company is specific about the width on their online store so I know exactly what I’m getting, I’m good.

Bill Maher in a recent episode of Real Time on HBO. The shirt collar is tiny, the tie is skinny, and the jacket lapels are wider. It’s a mismatch of proportions.

I find this oversight especially disconcerting with media personalities who’s well-paid stylists should know better. Bill Maher is a good example of where it frequently comes off the rails. (And I love Bill.) From week to week, it’s as if his suits, shirts, and ties come from different designers with very different aesthetics. One week, the shirt collar is super skinny, the next week, the lapels are super skinny, and another week, his tie is like a shoelace. If his stylist, Kelly Smith, found a combination of brands that worked consistently every time, the problem would be solved and Bill could get on with the business of putting on a great show while looking perfect. But unfortunately, it’s often a mix-up of discordant proportions and widths. (His tailoring and overall fit are another matter for another time.) I’m still a huge fan and a loyal viewer, though.

And I’m all for mixing colors, patterns, and textures. In fact, I marvel at it. Bill Maher’s Kelly Smith shines here, actually, expertly choosing terrific color and pattern combinations for him. But masterful mixing should maintain balance of widths for maximum effect and consistency.

My suggestion is to find a brand (or combination of them) with the right fits and proportions that work best for you. Every. Single. Time. And stick with them. Once you’ve got a program of good proportions and fit that works, you’re all set to pick, mix, and match colors, patterns, and textures.

Carry on.


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7 Comments

  1. John Navarro Reply

    Thank you!! This has been on my mind for some time. I’ve tried to address it with various custom clothing companies, but with no success. I appreciate your lesson.

  2. Just different styles. Nothing wring with Maher’s style, just different than yours, allowed?

  3. C. Roberts Reply

    Succinct explanation of why good tailoring just reads so much better than off the rack dressing. But what he is also saying is that, with careful selection of off the rack clothing, you create the impression of custom tailoring. Pearls of wisdom.

  4. Peter Sardella Reply

    Thanks for the clarity on the proportions. You quantified what was previously a gut feeling that certain combinations “didn’t work”.

    I have a difficult time finding shirts with collars that meet together at the top of the tie and also lay flat on the front of the shirt (no ends in the air). Drives me bananas.

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