Guide to Collar Bars and Pins

The pin or bar collar is one of the more formal styles of collar available. Due to a variety of film and television series such as Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire, it has of late experienced something of a renaissance.

One of the more successful hipster iterations.

Though often worn tie-less by hipsters, the jewellery-like ornament of a metallically enhanced collar demands a tie; this is not for Sundays in the country or casual Fridays at the office. The beauty of the bar or pin through the collar is that it acts as a podium on which the tie sits – creating an attractive tie arch that sits proud of the shirt front.

As a statement piece, it is therefore better to wear on highly formal occasions with three-piece suits or as part of morning dress – particularly when the collar is a contrast one. A plain white version can also look rather rakish and Mad Men-esque, particularly with a silver-grey suit and silk knit tie.

Of the different styles available, the pin (literally secured in the style of a giant safety pin) is the most anachronistic but has a preppy charm.

The bars with screw on ends – often sold as part of the shirt itself – are easier to attach but less vintage-looking, so aren’t as authentic.

Importantly, both of these styles require shirts with pre-made holes, which are not easy to find. Alternatively you can pin through the collar of a regular shirt but will wear out the collar after some time.

For shirts without these holes, clip-on bars are available – both vintage and new – which enable impermanent attachment to plain collared shirts. Unlike certain other ‘clip-on’ things that should never go near a well-dressed collar (ahem, bow ties), these are perfectly acceptable and genuine.

Collar Bars Sartorial Love/Hate

“Errr…naff!” said an acquaintance peering in to TM Lewin’s window on Jermyn Street.

The object of his disgust was a plain white shirt with a puppy tooth silver tie. I failed to see the connection between his comment and the ensemble. “What’s wrong with it?” I asked, half expecting a tirade against TM Lewin and their lurch towards a ‘lower standard product’ – an increasingly common refrain.

“Those bar collars are just so horrible.”

“Really? I think they’re quite natty” I replied “and also, they provide the perfect setting for a jolly good tie arch.”

“No” he responded, without skipping a beat “terrible. Absolutely terrible.”

I almost felt insulted. As though someone had decried my favourite London building as an austere carbuncle.

I have wanted a bar collared shirt for some time, ever since I began to spend idle student afternoons watching cocktail-filled black and white movies. Back then, there was no local Lewin stocking a generous range. The bar collar hadn’t hit the mainstream. It was still a specialist, antiquated product with no modern cultural relevance.

Nowadays of course, there are a multitude of popular references, most notably glossy television dramas like Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men. The latter is undoubtedly the most significant influence on the country’s wider fashion trend for skinny lapels and tie pins, particularly because Gary Barlow – never really known for sartorial distinction – exposed the sleek, Sinatra-esque look to an entirely different audience on the bafflingly popular and utterly risible performance circus ‘X Factor.’

It is perhaps because of this that my acquaintance views them as ‘naff’. After all, no self-consciously discerning chap would respect a sartorial niche once it has been endorsed by primetime commercial television. It becomes dirty and cheap, sullied by the glare of studio lights.

However, for me there is no such taint.

To me, the bar collar still makes me think of a winking cad in a pre-war cocktail bar or Bertie Wooster, adjusting his tie in a walnut mirror. It has a special, jewel-like quality that suggests a sense of occasion. Ideal for morning dress, or another formal outfit, it perhaps lacks the practicality required for it to be an everyday item. However, this is no bad thing. Particularly considering that increasing ubiquity is one of the chief complaints of detractors.

6 Comments

  1. James said:

    Winston, I think the problem is that they DID actually achieve a populist revival in the early-mid eighties, so gentlemen a smidge over forty (like myself) recall wearing them as teenagers along with sta-prest trousers and skinny ties. Hence the slightly uncomfortable reminiscence.

    I do actually think they can look quite smart, though……

    January 10, 2013
  2. Steve said:

    Safety pin yes. Bar definitely no!

    January 10, 2013
  3. Brian Tyler said:

    Not that fashion was the best in the 80s, but there was a resurgence of little elements and accessories that made clothes a little more flamboyant. Bar collars, vested suits, pocket watches and Double Alberts, fobs and the like. It might not be looked at as fashion forward today with 10,000 patterns on one outfit….but it looked a hell of a lot better.

    January 10, 2013
  4. Scott Morton said:

    Argh yes James, I, like you, fall into the ‘smidge over forty’ brigade and remember with much fondness my sta-press trousers and tie pin shirt…
    But – I also cringe, remembering the white socks and loafers that went with them!

    January 10, 2013
  5. David V said:

    At least the fashion of the 80’s was several steps up from the 70’s. Being a “smidge” over 60 , my menories of the 80’s are a bit different. I have, wear and love my bar collared shirts.

    January 10, 2013
  6. David V said:

    Menories!! Men’s memories? Please forgive my stumbled fingered spelling error.

    January 10, 2013

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