Golf Style: Many men are collar blind

Tuesday June 10th, 2008
The longer collar worn by Poulter flatters (top), while the traditional size makes Joey Sindelar look jowly.
David Cannon/Getty Images (poulter); Hunter Martin/Getty Images (Sindelar)

The standard golf or polo shirt, perhaps the most popular garment in the Western world, has one serious drawback: Most of the shirts have smallish, lie-down collars that are somewhat unflattering to a full-faced man.

It's a simple matter of proportion. Short, stubby, rib-knit collars do nothing to balance the fuller, wider visage. Longer, pointed collars, on the other hand, draw attention down and away from the face, offsetting the jowls. While you probably don't want to be seen on the links wearing a ridiculously floppy-collared disco number, shirts with longer collar points are starting to show up on the PGA Tour and in stores.

Ian Poulter, the British professional who takes a special interest in the fashion side of golf, has been wearing fuller, longer-pointed collars on his shirts, most notably at this year's Masters. Poulter designs his own line of golf clothing, and several of his styles feature collars reminiscent of the long-pointed collars popular in the 1970s. Trendy but flattering, Poulter's shirt collars also have a bit of structure — they stand up and frame the face, much as a dress shirt would.

Brandt Snedeker, the American who surprisingly came within four strokes of winning at Augusta, also has been donning shirts with generous collars. Snedeker's shirts are made by Adidas. Poulter and Snedeker are young men with oval faces, and so have little need for the ameliorating effects of bigger collars. But for the rest of us their example is well taken. It's a lesson as fundamental to golf style as keeping your head steady is to ball striking, but one that seldom enters into purchasing decisions and involves one of the reigning mysteries of modern masculine style. Affluent men tend to start wearing golf shirts precisely as they reach the state of life when success and the force of gravity have begun to show in their jawlines. Paradoxically, as their faces get fuller, they adopt two styles: 1) the Ivy League button-down dress shirt and 2) the polo shirt. Both feature collars well proportioned for a medium or long face, but they do not suit many middle-aged men. Small collars make a large head seem larger. Long-pointed collars create a longitudinal effect that offsets wider facial latitude.

To offset a round or full face, look for collars somewhat longer than the standard 2"-2 1/2" size. Poulter's brand includes what he calls placket polos, which are pocketed golf shirts with covered plackets (the button strip is concealed by fabric) that also have full, stand-up collars. In general his golf shirts have three-piece collars — that is, they are fully fashioned (knitted seamlessly with the rest of the garment to conform to body lines) and stand up a bit on the neckline.

The venerable John Smedley, a 224-year-old English company, makes very fine Sea Island cotton and superthin merino wool polo shirts with fully fashioned collars that are as soft as anything on the market. These will definitely set you back a bit (about $200), but they will stand up in comfort and style.

Fully fashioned collars may not be quite as comfortable as the standard golf shirt knit collar, which is made for active wear. The minor sacrifice in comfort is compensated for in good looks.

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