What is the difference between a point collar and a spread collar shirt?

Fashion Tips and Guides

What exactly is the difference between spread collar and point collar - and when did buying a simple button down shirt get so complicated? If you're anything like me, that question probably bounced around in your head for a good long while before you bothered to search for an answer. Well, look no further: below I'll explain spread collar and point collar shirts, with a bonus collar-type that you may find useful to have in your closet.

Three basic types of dress shirts

There are three basic types of dress shirts and collars you need to know about: point collars, spread collars, and button downs. Here are some of their defining characteristics:

  • Point collar shirts: Usually worn with a suit and tie. These collars have a narrower gap between the collar points.
  • Spread collar shirts: Can be worn with a suit and tie, but also look great in a business casual outfit.
  • Button down collar shirts: Usually reserved for business casual wear, but can work with a business casual outfit.

Whatever type of collar you're wearing, try to make sure that the tie knot fits well within the confines of the collar. Don't pair an enormous windsor knot with a narrow point collar; avoid a tightly wound four-in-hand knot with a wide spread collar. If this terminology isn't familar, don't worry - you can read our other article, "How to wear a tie" to learn about the different tie knots.

Point collar shirts: formal and fancy

An example of a point collar shirt
Photo by Hunters Race / Unsplash

Point collar shirts are commonly seen in business or formal settings. They are distinguished from the other collar types by the narrow gap between the two points of the collar. Another way to think of this is that the ends of a point collar "point" directly at the ground.

These collars work well with narrow tie knots, such as the four-in-hand. If you opt to take off your tie, be careful that your collar doesn't become disheveled or flatten out over your shoulder. It's for this reason that most people will recommend you only wear a point collar shirt with a tie. If all you have on hand is a point collar shirt and you're worried that your collar will flail about, throwing on a sportcoat or blazer can help keep the collar from spreading (but make sure to keep an eye on it).

Spread collar shirts: the wardrobe workhorse

An example of a spread collar shirt
Photo by Tobias A. Müller / Unsplash

Here's the difference between spread collar and point collar: spread collars have a wider spread (surprise) between the two points of the collar, which means they can accomodate wider tie knots. The smaller collar also means that spread collars work equally well with or without a tie, so you can wear these shirts in both business and business casual settings. If you're going to undo the top button or two on your shirt, just make sure that your undershirt isn't showing.

Beware: the spread on spread collar shirts varies from brand to brand. The spread on the collar above, for instance, is fairly large and probably more appropriate for less formal occasions. Some companies will have variants like "semi-spread", "wide-spread", and "cutaway". If you're ordering online, make sure to check that clothier's definition of spread collar before buying.

Button down collar shirts: solid and simple

An example of a button down shirt
Photo by William Stitt / Unsplash

Here's your bonus collar-type. Button downs are considered the least formal of these three collar types. These shirts are distinguished by buttons that pin the ends of the collar to the shirt. This keeps the collar looking neat and means that this type of shirt looks great without a tie.

Although you can throw on a tie to dress-up these shirts, button downs are usually reserved for business casual occassions. Wearing a button down with a suit is acceptable, especially if you want to dress down the suit and look less stiff or formal.

But which one is the best collar?

Short answer? Spread collar shirts. Some more conservative readers might be offended by that blanket statement, but let me explain.

Your average guy doesn't need (or want) to wear a tie to work every single day - but he wants to look good in a suit when he does have the occasion to dress up. He also isn't too keen on shopping for more shirts. Spread collar shirts work in both formal and casual settings, meaning that you'll need to buy fewer total shirts. You can pocket your savings, or use them to buy some quality shirts.

The exception to this rule is someone who routinely wears suits; people working banks or law offices, for example, would be expected to dress more formally. If you're one of those bunch, it's important that you follow your work's dress code, because people do notice when your clothing isn't up to snuff.

Even if you're not a lawyer, you should definitely still have a few point collar shirts on hand since they do generally look nicer with formal wear. And you can round out your wardrobe with a handful of button down collar shirts if you want to add some character to your closet. But if you're looking for the best bang for your buck, spread collar is a good bet.

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About James Royce Threadgill

Founder of UbiquiTools LLC. Coder/creator of REALToDo real estate CRM. Chemical engineer that previously worked in gene therapy and green plastics before founding UbiquiTools.