What menswear aficionado cannot instantly conjure Fred Astaire twirling around Anderson & Sheppard’s fitting room in a new suit, freezing mid-move to check that his collar had remained snug on his neck? I can almost see the skirt of his coat swing a split second beyond the snap of his head to the mirror. Of course, none of us ever actually witnessed this, any more than we saw Astaire’s subsequent ritual of throwing the new coat against the wall to “knock the stiffness out of it.” Nevertheless, we know these scenes as sartorial gospel, not only because they’ve been so vividly rendered by scribes like G. Bruce Boyer, but because they capture something ineffably essential about how tailored clothes are supposed to look, feel, and move.
A poorly fit collar will tend to either stand away from or break on the wearer’s neck, and as a movie star, Astaire would have been on guard against flaws so prominently visible in a headshot or closeup. As a dancer, he would have been equally concerned with the collar as the coat’s structural fulcrum, consistently bearing the balanced weight of the garment where it is felt least. As a dandy, Astaire would have delighted in a proper collar’s elegant confluence of form and function.
In this installment of “The Making of a Coat,” Rory Duffy explains how such collars are made. In contrast to most production collars, which tend to be soft to allow easy manipulation onto garments where they sit relatively flat, Duffy’s handcraft bespoke collars are highly shaped and heavily wrought, made to stand taller around the wearer’s neck and provide a graceful transition to the shoulder. A stiff collar canvas and a wool melton undercollar, both bias cut, are first joined and shaped with dense pad-stitching, then slightly gathered with a strong silk draw stitch, and finally pressed into a springy crescent. Before even being attached, a collar thusly made has much of its function already built into it: to firmly grip (or “bite”) the wearer’s neck and to provide a stable anchor from which the rest of the coat will hang.