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Why the camp collar is summer’s best shirt

Why the camp collar is summer’s best shirt

If you take a quick glance around you in the pub or park this summer, it’s likely that more than a handful of men will be wearing a shirt with a collar that folds back flat against their chest, like a stunted suit lapel. And, unless you’re part of a 10-pin bowling club, chances are this is by coincidence and not design. These are camp collar shirts, and in the last couple of years, they’ve become unavoidable. Which does not surprise us at all.

This isn’t the first time camp collars have been in style, although their origin story is a little murky. “It’s one of those rare menswear items that doesn’t have a military history,” says our own stylist-slash-fashion historian Luke McDonald. “The thinking goes that it was worn for outdoor activities at the turn of the last century, but it really gained traction as a stylish menswear item in the 1950s and 60s. The appetite for travel had opened up and planes had expanded people’s horizons. Americans, in particular, were travelling to warmer climates like Cuba and Mexico and this type of shirt is what the locals were wearing.” Which explains why they also go by the names ‘Cuban collar’, or ‘vacation shirt’.

However, they are categorically not a Hawaiian shirt, though on the surface they look similar. Nor should a camp collar be confused with the safari shirt, that neutral, many-pocketed shirt worn favoured by the British military in the 1950s. The camp collar is a sleeker, more colourful creature entirely.

“One of the reasons the camp collar has become so popular is that there are so many different ways to wear it and so many different guys to take inspiration from,” says Luke, “from Elvis and Ernest Hemingway in the 50s and 60s to actors like Miles Teller today. Actor-rapper-creative genius Donald Glover is also big fan, which is a big seal of approval.”

Like the men who wear them, the shirts themselves run the gamut from minimalist to bright and beautiful. “You can go as wild or as subtle as you want,” says Luke. “A plain-coloured camp collar shirt looks smart and is a nice way to look both smart and summery – even more so than polos, which feel quite sporty – especially with chinos and loafers. But if you want to go more towards the bold prints and bright colours, you can. It looks playful but still stylish, especially with jeans or worn open over a plain white tee.”

The camp collar’s unrivalled ability to combine style with fun is precisely why they’re everywhere right now. Summer is all about loosening up and at the moment, menswear is getting more relaxed every year. A camp collar shirt is the perfect way to explore your individuality. “Especially because wherever you wear a camp collar shirt, you look good,” says Luke. “It even works on the beach, which you can’t say about most shirts. Look at Sean Connery’s Bond in Thunderball or Jude Law in The Talented Mr Ripley.”

One of the big reasons we’re reaching for camp collars as soon as it gets warm is their slightly boxier fit, which makes them cooler and more breathable in the warmer weather. “They’re predominately made from cotton, which is one of the best fabrics for summer because it breathes,” says Luke. But they also come in a slew of other materials, all designed for comfort when the mercury’s bubbling (more on that below). Which is why, wherever you’re heading this summer, there’s a camp collar shirt to suit. “To work, to the beach, even under a blazer for a summer wedding,” says Luke.

The best fabrics for camp collar shirts

Cotton

What is it? A durable, woven fabric

Why is it great? It’s breathable and keeps moisture away from the skin – ideal for summer. The natural fibres break down softly, so cotton becomes softer and more comfortable the more you wash it. It dyes well too, so you can experiment with colours.

Linen

What is it? The world’s strongest natural fibre. Made from the flax plant it creates a strong and longlasting fabric

Why is it great? Linen fibres are looser than cotton so that the air can move more freely through the fabric, keeping you cool. It’s also can absorb a lot of moisture before it looks or feels damp, so you’ll stay comfortable even if you sweat. Colours look more muted on linen, so either go monochrome or stick to classic patterns like stripes or florals.

Rayon

What is it? A fabric made from wood pulp that is sometimes referred to as artificial silk.

Why is it great? It drapes nicely and feels like silk, but without the price tag. It’s also much hardier – you can throw a rayon shirt in your washing machine. It takes dyes beautifully and because of the fabric composition, the colours will be bolder and brighter – great for brave summer prints.


Words: Nadia Balame-Price
Photography: Jon Cardwell
Styling: Alexander McCalla
Styling assistant: Toby Standing