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Zero Collar Gap: The Third Signal of a (good) Handmade Suit

A screaming collar gap ... such a pity for a promising look

Collar Gap Offender


It’s surprising to notice that so many people with exquisite taste fail to notice the importance of a good collar fit with no “collar gap”. In my own experience, I have been slow to pay attention to collar gaps on suits, especially when mesmerized by an otherwise incredible look of an ensemble.

Compared to many readers, I am fairly new to the world of tailoring, with only about two years of suit-making self-study. Yet I have noticed, after spending many years in surgical wear and fabric design (with patents on a major surgical fabric product) that I have gained a real fascination with the dynamics of garment appearance, fit and function. Out of all the components of suit making that I’ve learned to date, it is particularly interesting to watch how collar fit affects the front and back fit of a coat.

Collar fit is such a strong component to the overall look of the suit, and if we start paying attention to different collar presentations, then we can quickly spot examples of a properly sewn suit collar and a poorly constructed suit collar. Here is a prime example of a poorly constructed suit collar that may be “fault elusive” to many. It is a pinterest sensation that is hard not to like, with a real problem–a shouting collar gap:


Even our dear Prince Charles, in his earlier years, made the mistake of wearing a suit with the dreaded collar gap in one of his portraits. Here we see a photo of the Prince years ago, with a text book example of how a collar gap contributes to the front V-Tug of the suit coat. But, not to worry since in the years that followed, prominent Savile Row houses such as Anderson & Sheppard promptly corrected the problem with technical precision. Take a look at the Prince’s before and after photos.


In this photo, we see:

1. an obvious coat collar gap with the jacket pulling away from the shirt,

2. the shirt collar is showing fully underneath the coat collar on the back of the neck, instead of less than 3/4″ (or less than 2 cm) of shirt collar fabric that should extend from the coat collar.

3. the classic front panel V-tug, and “fabric collapsing” in the chest area,

4. a secondary collapsing gap created between one of the lapels on the coat and the shirt itself, causing the lapel to lose its intended straight line.

Of course, the prince does have his hand in his pocket, which can affect the overall look, but since he is doing so carefully while choreographing his pose, we can conclude that his pose probably has minimal affect on the front drape of his coat.

And now, notice the corrections in this suit:


In this photo, we see the following corrections:

1. the suit collar follows the shirt collar closely, with what appears to be around less than 3/4″ (less than 2 cm) of shirt collar showing,

2. there is the correct amount of tugging of fabric around the chest and waist area of the coat, and

3. the overlapping lapel does not rise and curve against the shirt, but lies flat at a straight angle.

THE PHYSICS OF A SUIT COLLAR


To understand the physics of fabric draping that occurs when there is a collar gap, perform a simple exercise:

First, take hold of the back of the collar of the shirt or coat that you are wearing now and pull the collar backwards. You will notice two things that happen:

1.The front panel of your shirt or coat will pull up upwards, creating a “V-Tug” appearance with some fabric collapsing around the chest area.

2. The back of your shirt or coat will “bunch”, creating fabric folds.

When the collar is working in the opposite direction of the neck, an opposing upward pull occurs on the front of the jacket, and fabric is pulled up and “bunches” around the upper back.

Yet, when the collar is sewn properly and hugs the neck, these problems are eliminated.


To illustrate the point, pull your collar downwards, towards your neck, and notice the dynamics that occur in correcting the chest and upper back fit.

In this situation, the fabric on the back of the jacket is secured flush against the body and the fabric in front works with gravity to create a nice drape with the correct amount of tugging around the chest and the waist of a well-sewn suit.

Compare the different upper back results in the following two suits:


Upper back “Bunching”


Smooth upper back

Here, the close fit of the collar is vital in helping the fabric across the upper back lie smoothly against the body.

HOW UNEVEN SHOULDERS CAN CAUSE A COLLAR GAP

Most of us are not exactly evenly proportioned. And, it’s not unusual for one shoulder to be lower than the other shoulder. When wearing a ready-to-wear suit, the person with uneven shoulders can see a few problems occur:

If the left shoulder is higher, as seen below, in a ready-to-wear suit that is uniformly sewn,

* a collar gap will form, usually around the shoulder that is set lower, and

* fabric bunching will occur that moves in the direction the higher shoulder (as seen above)


In the photos of Prince Charles above, his right shoulder appears lower than his left shoulder, and the collar gap is showing against his weaker shoulder. In the photo that follows, it appears that his tailor has made the corrections necessary to even out the appearance of his shoulders.

Other than slightly adjusting the coat button positions (moving the buttons a fraction higher or lower) on these problem-suits which are pulling either to the left of the right, or a valiant attempt to slightly pad the lower shoulder, there is little that one can do to correct this type collar gap problem on a ready-to-wear suit. A person with offset shoulders should whenever possible, have his or her suits handmade.

IT’S ABOUT AWARENESS

As we take notice of how the collar fits around the neck, we develop an eye for fine tailoring.

Here are some contrasting examples of the bad and the good:


Collar gap with classic V-Tug with collapsing fabric and a curved (instead of straight) left lapel.


And now for the good:


PG Director Greg Jacomet in Cifonelli (who worked with an uneven shoulder). Here there is no collar-gap, around 2 cm of shirt collar showing in back, a straight lapel angle, and the correct amount of front tugging.


Stefan Bernard in a Zegna jacket. Notice the close collar fit on both sides of the neck, and the correct front panel tugging. The lapel angle is intentionally curved instead of straight, with both lapels curved and angled evenly.


Pal Zileri. A nice RTW specimen on all counts.

There are a few things you can do to improve the situation of dealing with a collar gap, ranging from wearing wide-spread shirt collars to mitigate the appearance of the collar opening to looking at having a tailor build up a weak shoulder on the coat, to making a subtle shift in button placement to improve a pull of the coat to the left or to the right (again, usually indicted by uneven shoulders). But, of course, having the collar correctly made to form to your neck from the beginning will save a lot of trouble in the end.

Any fool can know, the point is to understand- Albert Einstein

Sonya Glyn Nicholson

sources:

Dress Like a Grown Up

The Garment Doctor: The Collar Gap

Garment Doctor Series

Bespoke Suits in Singapore: Kevin Seah

Kempt: How a Spread Collar Can Improve a Collar Gap

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. I am not into tailoring; I barely sew at all.I am not into high fashion, either…but I LOVE your blog.I do appreciate well-made clothing that looks good . I look for appropriately dressed people and I can spot quality.I love it when a director/costume dept.get it right with subtlety and show how someone,(men, in particular), has climbed in the world.
    I love your tips, explanations, charts, etc.
    I hope you continue…even if we don’t always get a chance to respond.(I have personally gotten very backed-up with blog visits…and everything else in my life!!!)

    June 2, 2013
    • Thank you, Tonette for your words. They mean a lot. I think the secret that many people miss is that yes, clothes are about quality…but most of all clothes are about emotion. ~Sonya

      June 13, 2013
  2. Fascinating series! I’m always a bit enthralled by learning the fine, precise details of other professions and industries that are new to me. The amount of study, experience and knowledge about something as “simple” as a collar… fascinating!!

    June 24, 2013
    • Thank you for commenting, Wyrd (I’m experimenting with the look here). I’ve come to believe that elegance begins with a person’s core character, and develops outwardly from there….you’re right, human experience can be taken to new heights when we tap into the meanings behind the experiences. ~S

      October 8, 2013
  3. what a lovely article, I also think its important to make sure that the collar has been made up of two parts, as this adds structure and strength.

    November 18, 2013
  4. Michelle m #

    I’m enthralled, but I’m looking for reasons why inexpensive women’s clothing has a different type of collar gap in the front? Needless to say, you don’t *ever* see this in Italian tailoring, and am very dismayed to see many higher-end designers capitulate to buying from China, when it’s clear their tailors are not anywhere near as great as those in Italy. Armani, Donna Karan make phenomenal jackets. Put them on and go. They never pull funny in the armpits or shoulders due to pointless spare fabric in the armpits. Better one great jacket than several that are annoying to wear.

    At a much lower price point, dresses gap in the front. If sleeveless, there’s the “showing bra straps” at the sleeves outside to consider, also extremely annoying. And just plain stupid.

    I have a great tailor in Chicago when I use Nordstrom clothes who loves and understands me, but I have to pay for the service buying Loft clothes (no reimbursement in store credit), and they don’t get it…:( Unfortunately, Armani and Donna Karan are usually not an option all the time…it can look a bit odd to mix and match types of price points, because great clothes show all the imperfections of the cheap stuff.

    Thank you for reading…

    July 11, 2015

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