“Deconstructed” has become such a buzzword in fashion circles it’s only right that the collarless shirt – arguably a trailblazer of this genre, with its stiff collar designed to be removed and washed separately – is now making fashion headlines, with new designs spanning easy-chic linens to smart occasionwear, and folky bohemian patterns to cool contemporary prints.
For Jermyn Street shirtmaker Emma Willis, the very act of removing the collar is “a relatively rebellious act in the shirt world that renders the shirt cooler and less formal”. Willis’s latest refined examples of “grandad” shirts (the Irish name) include those in denim-blue Italian linen with a placket (£290), a gutsy antique navy Bengal-stripe Italian linen (£290), and white or deep-blue Irish linens with a flat front and “speed hems” (£290) – which “give a shallow, more gentle curve than the longer tails you tuck in,” Willis explains. “There’s also no gusset at the side, so they look good worn outside trousers.”
Drake’s calls its collarless shirts (£175) tunic or band-collar shirts. They come in fine, textured Bergamo garment-dyed linens and the cut is somewhere between a loosely fitted T-shirt and relaxed 1940s/1950s Riviera tailoring. There’s a precision about their construction that I like, particularly the single line of stitching and non-fused linings. My favourites come in a white or deep-indigo linen with a slubby grain, or a rustic-looking blue and white stripe. For a smarter take, the white Oxford-cotton looks good under a charcoal-grey or navy jacket.
Nehru jackets – named after former Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru – are another moniker for the style, and one used by Thom Sweeney for its shirts, whose collars stand fractionally higher than the norm. Made from linens from renowned Italian mill Thomas Masons, they have a visible grain and lustrous handle. Slightly more fitted and with refined horn buttons, they come in sophisticated silvery grey (£225), Prussian blue and white.
I love Caruso’s collarless shirts (£400), particularly those in burgundy or grey multistripe silk with a pleated bib, which are so smart they’d look great as eveningwear – the placket even has velvet piping. At Caruso’s Milan show, the team styled the shirts with a suit and louche scarf, but I plan to wear mine with their pleated wide trousers.
Bib fronts can also be found at Massimo Alba, this time with a more bohemian feel – squared off and stitched as a shadow outline on a soft, faded-teal cotton-poplin shirt (£135) and a folksy washed-black “watercolour painted” shirt (£150). “There’s a nomadic aesthetic associated with the collarless shirt,” says Sam Lobban, buying manager at stockist Mr Porter, which also e-tails a creased near-black crepe style (£395) by Issey Miyake, and another (£725) with distinctive pockets in a reversible flower and leaf print by Gucci.
Interesting patterns also feature on Oliver Spencer collarless shirts, where the smocky Cabana comes in a Nordic-style stripe (£149). “I’ve loved grandad shirts since the 1980s,” says Spencer. “I liked them big and worn half unbuttoned; now I prefer them boxy and shorter cut.” At Paul Smith, there’s a striking cotton/cashmere ticking stripe shirt (£265) with covered placket and single gold button at the neck that drapes beautifully, while Gieves & Hawkes’ repeat pattern (£250) is taken from a Puerto Rican tile – printed onto gorgeous silk/cotton.
Other distinctive interpretations of the collarless shirt can be found at 3.1 Phillip Lim, where there’s lots of volume, longer lengths and subtle trompe-l’oeil sleeve details (£330), and at Kilgour, where cotton-voile shirts (£280) have contrasting panels (white on navy, black on slate) inside the collar and placket. These look great beneath Kilgour’s tailored eveningwear, but also make a statement when worn more casually.