Last week, Philadelphia 76ers general manager Bryan Colangelo achieved infamy after it was revealed he (or possibly his wife) was behind a network of dummy Twitter accounts that routinely criticized NBA players and executives, including members of his own organization. As if that wasn’t crazy enough, one of the stranger parts of this already incredibly bizarre news story is that the Twitter accounts frequently defended Colangelo’s preference for large shirt collars.
Whatever you think of Colangelo’s fashion choices, it’s undeniably petty of a grown man and/or his significant other to create a bunch of Twitter egg accounts and stage an astroturf campaign about anything, let alone something as inconsequential as his collar size.
Nearly everyone in sports agrees Colangelo should be fired, regardless of whether he was directly responsible for the tweets in question. But until that happens, let’s address an even more burning question: What does a man’s collar say about him anyway (if anything)?
For answers, I turned to a cadre of fashion experts who extolled on collar size throughout sartorial history, and why Colangelo’s supposed crimes against men’s fashion were never that appalling in the first place.
Patriarchy Isn’t a Good Look
Criticism of Colangelo can be chalked up to how vigilantly our culture polices masculinity. That is, the rules governing masculinity are rigid, and those who flout them are often struck down for daring to be original. “Men’s fashion in America is very conservative and conformity among peers is often a leading influence,” notes Sarah Byrd, adjunct faculty at NYU’s graduate costume studies program. “Unlike women’s fashion, there are still quite a few rules of dressing that men uphold and follow, especially in business attire.”
Big Collars Are So 1970s
That said, Byrd acknowledges Colangelo’s collars aren’t in-sync with current men’s fashion trends. For the past 10 years or so, most everything in men’s fashion has been trending toward thinner, narrower and skinnier, according to Daniel James Cole, also of the NYU costume studies program — e.g., skinny jeans and skinny ties, narrow lapels, form-fitting shirts and short-shorts. Collars are no different.
The last time wide collars were in was back in the 1970s. “Menswear was all over the place back then,” says Nancy Deihl, director of the costume studies program at NYU. “We keep reviving the fashion of that era, but it still has a reputation as being tacky. And any time a collar veers toward the large, they identify it as 1970s. It’s passe; it’s not current, it’s not chic.”
That style went out of fashion during the conservatism of Reagan’s presidency, when everyone reverted to wearing more traditional suits, she adds.
Large Collars Seem Authoritative
A large shirt collar is a style choice that dates back to colonial Europe and pre-revolutionary America, Cole says. Typically made of lace, a large collar was a sign of class and wealth, and thus, it was worn by aristocracy, such as Charles I and King Louis XIII of France (below):
Was Colangelo trying to give of the air of a 17th century monarch?
It’s an intriguing theory but probably wrong considering Colangelo’s collars tend to be more high than wide. And a high (but not necessarily wide) collar has a distinctly militaristic connotation. “The high collar was very fashionable in military and civilian outfits in the early 19th century,” says Drake Stutesman, a historian of fashion and film. “Joachim Murat was one of Napoleon’s generals and famous for being a well-styled man. His collar shape is a tall, clean straight line that accents the head, and this kind of high straight collar is closer to the kind of high-collar look Colangelo is wearing than that of other types of shirt collars.”
This makes more sense, as sports executives love to traffic in military argot and often think of themselves as tactical field generals. It only makes sense they’d co-opt military aesthetics, as well.
Is Colangelo Trying to Look Like a Gangster?
Deihl notes the gangsters in Goodfellas and Casino wore oversized collars.
Colangelo’s Collars Aren’t That Big
Still, Colangelo’s collars aren’t even that big, Cole says. “His shirts collars aren’t that particularly exaggerated. … I don’t think it’s as much of a faux pas as wearing wide lapels or a wide neck tie.”
Colangelo actually has pretty good fashion sense, Cole continues. “He does wear collars that have high stands. But even if it might not be decreed as being in fashion, he is paying attention to some sort of sartorial sensibility in an attempt to be nicely dressed.
“Why didn’t he just let the comments go? It’s only called more attention to them. The wise decision would have been to just ignore the comments. Or blame his tweets on Ambien.”