It’s a fairly obscure and sarcastic English observation, with a meaning similar to the sardonic Texan expression, “All hat and no cattle.” ­­­­­Finding common sentiments between English and Texan culture has become a labor of love late in my life.

Refreshingly, Google was of little help in finding examples, meaning and origin of the phrase “all cuffs and collar,” but it did provide ample distractions involving alternative lifestyle choices and hair coloring.

But let’s return to the sartorial subject. Shirt cuffs and collars present Everyman an opportunity to express personality. But not too much, please!

Starting with the top row below, here is a good illustration (courtesy of The Wall Street Journal) of the most popular modern collar styles for men’s dress shirts.




The terms may vary depending on the shirtmaker, but everyone gets the idea.

Now, call me a stuffed shirt, but extreme styles are tiresome to look at. Wherever in the world you come from ̶ or where you now live – you and the company you keep will be happy with either a “Spread,” a “Forward Point” or a “Button-Down.” The last is classic American, but was ironically much favored by the late Giovanni Agnelli, a most stylishly understated Italian dandy. The term “English Spread” is a curiously odd one, describing a style that is immodestly wide. Gentlemen do not prefer wider.

Regarding the collar height (how far above your jacket the shirt will show), a good shirtmaker will decide for you   ̶   no arguments. If you are buying ready-to-wear, half an inch is a minimum, but three-quarters will work if you have a long neck or fancy yourself distinguished-looking. One inch is really pushing into big hat territory.

Getting down to cuffs, this is where things can get scary. Let’s start by saying that it would be undiplomatic to discuss the visible embroidering of the wearer’s monogrammed initials on cuffs, whether or not the wearer sends his shirts out for laundering. No comment.

So it comes down to a choice between French cuffs and barrel cuffs. We’ll let someone else explain Neapolitan cuffs.

The French cuff is a folded-back double structure, usually meeting with a cufflink to form a noose shape. Alternatively, the barrel cuff is, well, barrel shaped. It is commonly joined by a button. The French is flashier but elegant. The barrel is understated, but also elegant. Take your pick.


Cary Grant and Michael Caine wearing French cuffs
Gianni Agnelli in unbuttoned
button-down and barrel cuffs

The important thing here is to be sure that the cuff edge sits gently on the top knuckle of the thumb when the arm is hanging down. Assuming your jacket sleeve is the correct length, this will allow for half an inch to three-quarters to be visible. Any less and people will assume you are wearing a short-sleeved shirt, which you are not allowed to do. Any longer and you will be dragging them through your queso every time.


Next time we’ll tackle cufflinks.

Image credits
Cary Grant: Turner Entertainment
Michael Caine: Warner Bros.
Giovanni Agnelli: Fiat Archives
Cartoon: Conde Nast/Leo Cullum