A history of the tab collar dress shirt and why it looks so damn good
Ah, the tab collar dress shirt – it’s one of those styles that has come close to disappearing over the years, but has managed to keep a hold on its position in classic menswear wardrobes. Why? Most likely because it looks really damn good.
Sensibly, from the name, a tab collar shirt has, well, a tab that runs across the collar closure partway between the collar button and the points of the shirt. It looks good and is a feature that is actually functional.
When wearing a tie (which one should always do when wearing a tab collar shirt), the tab fastens under the tie knot and behind the blades of the tie. This achieves a couple of effects.
First, it keeps the tie knot tight against the collar. (I don’t know about you, but one of my personal pet peeves is an unintentionally loose, sloppy knot).
Second, it pushes the bottom of the knot away from the body, creating an elegant roll at the top of the tie blades.
By default, tab collar shirts are pretty much always point collar shirts. The narrow space between the collar points means that the tab will be entirely hidden by the tie. A wider collar spread, like a cutaway or spread collar shirt, would leave the tab exposed. In fact, the tab, if anything, makes the spread on a point collar shirt even smaller, and the necessity for a narrower tie and knot even more crucial.
Now, we’ve called the forward point collar the OG dress shirt, but in all actuality, the tab collar has been around even longer. We’re talking like before the development of the modern shirt collar, back when collars were removable and not attached to the rest of the shirt.
Prince Edward of Wales was one of the earliest ‘celebs’ to sport the look and bring it to public popularity in the 1920s and it rode strong all the way through the 1930s as well. You just have to check out some Boardwalk Empire episodes to see Nucky rocking some of the sharpest tab collar ensembles you’ve ever seen.
So why did it fall out of favor? Who really knows, but my guess is that the popularity of the tab collar has waxed and waned along with the propensity of men to wear ties.
As a look that requires a tie, it makes sense to be widely worn in an era like the early 1900s when practically every man wore one, and to return to widespread use in the 1960s with the revitalization of the classic men’s suit a la the “Mad Men generation”.
And while tab collar shirts may be a rarity in today’s often tie-less world, I’d say that as long as the necktie exists, tab collar shirts will be there to make them look even better.