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Our Collars Ourselves

As evolving office dress standards have made the suit and tie superfluous in many workplaces, the button-down shirt has become a man's defining fashion statement. "The shirt," says Eric Jennings, men's fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue, "is where you can express yourself."

With all those men expressing themselves, discerning shirt signals from shirt noise, as it were, has never been more difficult. Particularly because "We're at a moment in the fashion cycle where sport and dress, and business and casual, are colliding," says Jeff Blee, divisional merchandising manager for men's accessories at Brooks Brothers. This means shirts that were once reserved for after work are now becoming commonplace from 9 to 5.

Historically, collars--from the British-inspired spread collar to the casual American button-down--have separated the managers from the managed. These days, though, an array of collar styles, colors, fabrics, weaves, cuffs, and patterns are flooding the workplace. Each shirt communicates something different--but what? Bloomberg Businessweek posed that question to a handful of experts, including Blee; Jennings; Sam Spector, a prominent New York City-based stylist; John Minahan, chief executive officer and president of shirtmaker Gitman Bros; and Brett Fahlgren, an established men's style consultant. Next time you get dressed for work, you'll know what statement you're making.
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