Guest Editorial by Robert Cilley
by Robert Cilley
I like flannel shirts around the house in cold weather. They're soft, they're warm, and they're very forgiving of minor smudges, so you can get several days' wear out of them before they need washing. They do wear out, though, so right after Christmas I went to a local store that was having a sale, ready to get a stack of new ones. I do that every few years; the old ones get moved to the work-shirt shelf, and from then on, they live hard. A work, shirt, in my personal dictionary, is a shirt you can wipe your hands on, no matter what they have been in.
So I trek down to the store, and there they are: flannel shirts: several brands, different colors, various patterns, ten dollars a shirt, which seemed fair. And how many did I get? Not a blessed one, that's how many. There comes a point when you look at a thing and say "No, I don't care if that is a bargain; I hate it, and I will not buy it." I have reached that point as regards casual shirts with button-down collars, and every flannel shirt they had, had a button-down collar.
Let's review. In the beginning-or as close to it as I care to get-there was the celluloid collar. It was stiff and flammable and uncomfortable, but just as a multi-thousand-dollar watch is not meant to tell time (since a twenty-five dollar Timex is more accurate), a celluloid collar was a mark of status. It was the white collar, in the distinction between white collar and blue collar. After the winds of style shifted away from the high celluloid-type collar, the stiffness required of a white collar was achieved with collar stays, which were (and are) little slips of plastic that slide into a pocket on the back side of dress-shirt collars to keep the collar point from curling up. Or, if you like, you can button the collar point down, which allows for a softer fabric and a less stodgy look in a dress shirt. I have several dress shirts with button-down collars, and love them.
But you almost never wear a tie with a casual shirt, certainly not with a flannel shirt. With those, there is only one reason to have a button-down collar: it works better with a pull-over sweater than a spread collar does. I grew up in a house with radiators, and we wore sweaters. We had to. Near the radiator, you could roast peanuts by the heat they threw off. And, I expect, the air at the ceiling was toasty and warm, but everywhere else, you needed a sweater. Those days are gone. Houses and offices today tend to be overheated, if anything, and the only men I see wearing sweaters got them as gifts. I own several sweaters, but I have never bought one, and I don't wear any of them. Which means, of course, that I don't need button-down collars on flannel shirts. I don't need them, and I don't like them. They are not comfortable, and they look like they wanted to be a turtleneck but didn't have the grades. You don't see men in turtlenecks either, except on Star Trek.
So, memo to store buyers: A lot of men-maybe all of us-genuinely hate button-down collars on flannel shirts. Granted, most men do not shop for their own clothes, but maybe that's because we go in and see stack after stack of stuff we dislike. To heck with it.