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White-Collar Shirts

Jack Bettridge
From the Print Edition:
Arnon Milchan, September/October 2008

Has it been 20 years since Gordon Gekko wore power as an engineered suit of business armor in the movie Wall Street? Michael Douglas, playing the morally challenged corporate raider, matched white-collar crime to patterned shirts with white collar and cuffs, as well as stuffed-shoulder jackets, brash ties and double-wide suspenders, and proved that even if greed weren't good, it sure looked that way. The shirt that polished the ensemble is back, but not banished to the boardroom.

The crisp borders of white linen that power the shirt also make their mark in the absence of tie and suit. The secret is that the shirt is set in this white frame, which features your head, as well as your upper body. The eye is drawn to the collar and then to the face, which is the objective when pairing jacket, shirt and tie.

Of course, Gekko wasn't the first to wear white collars. Less than a decade before, Lee Iacocca had rescued Chrysler from insolvency while sporting them, but their story is much older. In the nineteenth century a housewife from Troy, New York, named Hannah Montague saw that collars sullied and wore out faster than the rest of the shirt, so she created detachable ones. Her mate liked the look and so did his friends. A cottage industry sprung up in the area and soon the new collars and cuffs became the status symbols of the office class that came to be called white-collar workers even while the rest of the shirt might be in riotous colors. The collars no longer detach, but the shirts' undeniable style remains.

The body pattern is the fun part. La Camiceria Italiana, the Italian maker of fine shirts, now in New York, put together the selection below, paired with ties and a cashmere double-breasted jacket of its own make. Mel Gambert Custom-Bespoke Shirtmakers, the Newark, New Jersey, outfit that supplied the Gekko shirts of silver screen, makes a dazzler with horizontal stripes. The collar should be spread with a rounded shape for emphasis. Mel Gambert made Gekko's especially long, but to achieve that may entail custom work. Speaking of which, replacing frayed collars and cuffs of your prized custom shirts with white ones not only makes economic sense, but honors the origin of the style. Visit lacamiceriaitaliana.net and gambertshirts.com.

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