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5 Tips for Wearing Camp Collar Shirts

Since summer 2016, the camp collar shirt has become a catalyst for transforming men’s button-downs. Not that there aren’t casual options out there, like the chambray shirt, but this garment - also known as the Cuban collar shirt and the cabana shirt - has created a structured and angular template for other trends to emerge. Particularly the pajama shirt, the revived bowling shirt, and the updated Hawaiian shirt. On its own, the camp collar shirt exudes nothing but 50s-inspired Americana. Its basic composition starts with a button-down’s foundation but takes the collar band out of the equation. As a result, the neckline, featuring a pointed, two-level collar and no top button, has a looser, more relaxed character. A straight hem, a boxy yet more spacious fit, and frequently a chest pocket rounds out its standard attributes.

But, back to its retro implications. How you wear it – the cut, material, and what you pair it with – is a definitive factor between coming across as classic but updated or simply dated. On one hand, its design references the timeless coolness of Elvis and Scarface. And, through a more modern pop culture lens, it delivers the unfettered, effortless style of Mad Men’s Don Draper having a casual moment or Jude Law in The Talented Mr. Ripley. However, especially if it’s made out of polyester or a silky material and has a looser fit, it transforms into the cruise clothes of yore or, worse, makes you look like Charlie Sheen’s desperate grab at staying relevant on Two and a Half Men. So, to do this trend well, start with these suggestions:

1. Cotton Over Polyester 

Breathability beats sweating through your shirt every time, hands down. A modern fit and feel, as such, utilise a cotton or linen blend with a solid or woven twill composition. As nylon, silk, or polyester made up most older garments, a cotton blend steers you away from the unintentional tourist look and, even better, is more suitable for warmer weather.

2. Find the Right Fit  

Remember how in the late 90s and early 00s, oversized bowler shirts were kind of a thing, especially with cargo shorts or wide-legged jeans? Although the camp collar shirt’s wider cut lets your body breathe, finding the right fit prevents you from seeming like a poorly dressed teenage relic. What’s ideal at this point? Not too tight and far from loose, a structured and somewhat boxy cut should hang from your frame. As the straight hem isn’t designed to be tucked in, look for shapes that skim over your torso and line up with your trousers.

3. Layer It  

Adaptability is the true measure of any menswear trend. With its novelty factor wearing off, the camp collar shirt isn’t just a statement garment you match with flat-front trousers or chinos; rather, layering it in a few combinations illustrates its greater range. Go for a reworked greaser character by wearing a solid white fitted tee under a darker or patterned camp collar shirt. Or, to highlight that angular collar and looser fit, contrast it against a single-button, unstructured blazer or a suede jacket – biker or bomber style for a slimmer element.

4. Get Kitschy 

Even if you leave the past behind, it can still partially catch up with you. Case in point: The patterned camp collar, perhaps the most ubiquitous version of this trend. Although its backbone seems eerily like the cruise style you want to steer away from, vintage infusions give the piece a kitschy Americana vibe similar to that of the souvenir jacket. And, there’s no one way to try it. For instance, Dries Van Noten goes for a summer-in-New-England character with its lobster print, Marc Jacobs and Yves Saint Laurent revived the two-tone Hawaiian floral, Valentino got sweet on pineapples, and Topman found its footing with fireworks, of all possibilities. Toning it down, windowpane checks, micro stripes, smaller checkerboard prints, and contrast piping give you a low-key variation.

5. Think About Your Trousers 

However you wear a camp collar shirt, one of the keys to pulling it off well is producing a clean line between it and whatever trousers you select. Wide-legged cuts carve the most linear path, while skinny jeans or chinos hint at 1950s youth culture, especially when you cuff the shirt’s sleeves. In all cases, the shirt should never drape or hang over your trousers – a possibility when you wear an ultra-skinny or spray-on pair. The result, in this case, steps away from timelessly structured and, instead, toward a muumuu and leggings combination.

Ivan Yaskey

Philadelphia’s streetwear scenes and working as a copywriter for a Boston-based menswear brand sparked Ivan's passion for fashion and style more than a decade ago.

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