How to wear the camp collar

A perfect example of laid-back tailoring, the camp-collar shirt is where the smart man’s money should be, says Tom Stubbs

Cifonelli cotton/linen shirt, €400
Cifonelli cotton/linen shirt, €400

Mark my words: camp collars are about to be a Thing. I’ve been into them for a while, for their power to transpose tailored looks into nonchalant leisure territory – they’re perfect for when I want to wear a smart jacket, without channelling anything remotely workaday. The camp collar is all about ease while still communicating a certain aplomb – something that’s just as true when it’s worn sans jacket. And although long beloved by particular style merchants, camp collars happen to be an especially of-the-moment summer style statement.

From left: Turnbull & Asser denim cotton shirt, £165. Gitman Vintage cotton shirt, £175 at Mr Porter
From left: Turnbull & Asser denim cotton shirt, £165. Gitman Vintage cotton shirt, £175 at Mr Porter | Image: George Ong

Camp collars are inherently a 1950s throwback. Think back to Elvis and Chuck Berry, but also Jack Kerouac and Gregory Peck, and nowhere does their appeal manifest more fully than at Parisian tailoring brand Cifonelli, which has them in classic slubby cotton/linen (€400) in soft neutrals, white and a couple of cheeky pastels; there is even a piqué camp hybrid collar shirt (€350) with a button-down option. Conventional camp collars sit flat and are intended to be worn spread open, but Cifonelli’s are cut swept back. “Ours are unusual one-piece constructions and have an exaggerated scale, but they work with everything from jeans to suits and sports coats,” creative director John Vizzone tells me. 

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Albam’s cotton camp-collar Panama shirts (£99) also have a strong 1950s feel, with navy, black, white or burgundy versions that look good under (and over) lighter tailoring or blousons, through to masculine checks (£99) and discreet florals (£139). Those at Caruso have subtle patterns in jacquard-effect cotton jersey (£300) in pinky red, and a fine-stripe jersey (£300) in red and white, while more pointed plain white or grey ones (£240) exude 1950s attitude. There are also vintage accents at Camoshita, whose Japanese washed-chambray-denim camp-collar shirts (£295) have long sleeves, a pocket and a slim fit, as does an Oxford cotton version (£270); both work brilliantly under a navy blazer.

Caruso cotton jersey jacquard shirt, £300
Caruso cotton jersey jacquard shirt, £300

Turnbull & Asser’s pyjama-style take on camp collars includes a cotton shirt (£165) in a blue jigsaw print and another (£165) in denim, while Orlebar Brown does a spry frond-print (£175), as well as a dapper charcoal shirt (£145). The American-based heritage shirt brand Gitman Vintage has gone for vibrant hibiscus flowers and gorgeous foliage prints (£175, exclusive to Mr Porter), ranging from indigo-on-black to more full-on colour combinations. Valentino, too, goes with foliage, featuring abstract leaf patterns: one line-drawn palm-leaf print shirt (£690) is so refined it looks like it was etched; another, more akin to a lightweight jacket (£690 at Browns), has graphic palm designs. More high-vis impact comes from Wooyoungmi, whose stretch-satin shirt (£310) is taken from a design by Sol LeWitt’s Loopy Doopy artwork and resembles a psychedelic woodcut in orange and grey.

From left: Orlebar Brown cotton shirt, £175. Prada cotton poplin shirt, £505. Valentino cotton jacket, £690 at Browns
From left: Orlebar Brown cotton shirt, £175. Prada cotton poplin shirt, £505. Valentino cotton jacket, £690 at Browns | Image: George Ong

Interpretations of Japanese print styles caught the eye instead at Gucci, where a red/white “sea storm” printed viscose camp-collar shirt (£450) and a cobalt/orange tiger-print silk shirt (£795) were equally spectacular. Another (£725), in sky blue embroidered with tigers, looks striking with white shorts. The breezy cotton poplin shirts (£505) with generously cut short sleeves at Prada showcase the work of fashion illustrator Liselotte Watkins, rendered with obvious brushstroke marks, solid-colour panels and abstracted still-life compositions. They’re bohemian, yet easy to wear with a light linen trouser (or again, with shorts). 

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By comparison, Private White VC’s camp-collar shirts are utilitarian affairs, conceived to be worn untucked and with pockets placed just above the hem. Designer Nick Ashley swears by this shirt – and personally channels Sean Connery as Bond circa Thunderball when he wears the midnight-blue cotton version (£275). Sand-coloured, it has more of a desert-adventure feel, while “for a bit of fun” he also does striped silk versions (£375). “This shirt hasn’t really been popular since the 1950s, but it’s back, and I love it,” says Ashley. “A camp collar frames the face so well, plus it can turn a tailored outfit into a very smart casual look.” 

For further counsel on the art of wearing camp collars, I conferred with 1980s model-stylist-musician Christos Tolera, a master in 1950s styling: “I love them because they’re so totally summer. I’ve yet to tire of seeing a camp-collar shirt; there’s something so chic about that tiny bit of asymmetry.” Among Tolera’s camp-collar-shirt advice: wear ironed with high-waisted trousers and untucked if the trousers are narrow. But hard and fast rules are few, and the opportunities this season many: and with such excellent styles in my sights, I plan to carry on camping.

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