Several companies and products claim to have the best dress shirt collar stays. There are definitely no shortage of options on the market. Plastic shirt stays, metal collar stays, magnetic collar stays — to name a few… As a custom dress shirt maker, we think we know a thing or two about them. We know that most men take them for granted. For the most part, they sit undisturbed in their pocketed slots, rarely requiring any care or maintenance.
Keeping your collar points flat and straight is an inglorious job but they do it well and quietly. From time to time (typically during a wash), you may lose one or two. Without dress shirt collar stays, your dress shirt may succumb to the dreaded curling collar (as shown below) — which honestly looks awful. Not to fret … in this guide, we’ll outline the history of collar stays and review the best dress shirt collar stays on the market.
One important distinction — if your problem is that your collar points collapse under the weight of a blazer, the issue is actually not the dress shirt collar stays but the placket, which we cover in our guide to Curing a Collapsing, Weak Collar with the Million Dollar Collar.
The History of Dress Shirt Collar Stays
As we’ve written about previously within our Contrast Collar Shirt guide, men’s shirts in the late 19th / early 20th century had detachable collars. No different than today, crisp and sharp collars were a look that men aspired to achieve. Starching a collar with a normal amount of starch is fine and does not change the material composition or the flexibility appreciably. During this era, an egregious amount of starch was used to stiffen the collar. The whole collar was drenched in starch which resulted in a rock solid collar which included not only the collar points but the collar band itself. The starch served a secondary purpose in that dirt and sweat would stick to the starch vs. the fabric which would allow it to easily wash away during laundering along with the starch. So, yes the collar was sharp and crisp but it was also incredibly uncomfortable.
During this era, there were dress shirt collar stays but they were very uncommon. Additionally, they were sewn in to the collar’s leaf vs. being removable. Before the invention of plastic, collar stays were actually made from strips of metal as well as brass, mother of pearl, celluloid, ivory, whalebone, and different variants of wood.
As the story goes, the modern collar stay (made of plastic, straight, removable, and inserted into the diagonal ‘pocket’ of a shirt collar’s points) was invented by Max Rittenberg (late 1910s / 20s), a longtime employee of Alexander & Oviatt, Los Angeles’s finest bespoke menswear haberdashery. Mr. Rittenberg designed the stay and the distinctive ‘pocket’ for the dress shirt collar stays. His employer (James Oviatt) was unimpressed and failed to move forward with the idea. Instead Oviatt passed the idea to an industry friend, who worked for the Van Heusen shirt company — who subsequently filed the appropriate design patents. This became what is now the modern collar stay.
The Best Dress Shirt Collar Stays Broken Down by Material / Type
As we mentioned earlier, there are no shortage of types of dress shirt collar stays. We outline a few of the more notable materials and products that are on the market today, alternatives to dress shirt collar stays, as well as a a DIY option that is perfect if you’re in a jam.
Removable Plastic Collar Stays
Exactly as described, removable plastic collar stays are likely the type of stays that most men are familiar with. Made of plastic, these stays accompany most off the rack shirts. These represent the most cost conscious choice for stays. Most store bought shirts come with flimsy, thin stays that provide very little benefit. You’re best off replacing these with thicker, more rigid stays such as the ones above.
Metal Collar Stays
Metal collar stays, as opposed to plastic, are significantly heavier and rigid which will keep your collar flatter and straighter. Inexpensive metal collar stays are likely made from a cheaper grade metal such as tin or aluminum. Stainless steel is a higher grade metal and will cost a bit more. The ones shown above have the added benefit of adjustable sizing, so they can be worn with shorter and longer point collars.
Brass Collar Stays
These stays are essentially luxury metal stays. They are significantly heavier than metal stays but look much more elegant. Brass collar stays are also a great gifting option for the fashion conscious gentlemen.
Magnetic Collar Stays
A truly innovative product from Wurkin Stiffs were first introduced to us in 2005. As described, magnetic dress shirt collar stays consist of a magnetized (metal) collar stay along with a small circular magnet. The magnetized collar stay is inserted into the collar stay pocket and the magnet is placed underneath the upper chest portion of the shirt torso. The collar stay is thus magnetically affixed to the stay resulting in a super secure collar that will never fly away. Many cheaper knock-offs have emerged in the 10+ years that have passed. However, we still remain partial to Wurkin Stiffs as the quality of the magnets used within their stays is of the highest quality.
Novelty / Multi Functional Dress Shirt Collar Stays
Novelty metal dress shirt collar stays that act as rulers, bottle openers, and even screw drivers are also niche stays that you will see advertised. While the chances of using these (successfully) for these secondary uses is low, they do present a great ‘gag’ gift offering. Do they work? Sure, though the process of removing a stay from an existing shirt you’re wearing to say open a bottle arduous and a bit ridiculous.
Hidden Button Down Collars (The Best Alternative)
The hidden button down collar is similar to a classic button down collar with the primary difference behind the hidden buttons behind the collar points. The hidden buttons secure the collar to the torso of the shirt. Like a button down collar, the points will not move at all. The hidden button down collar has been around for some time but it never gained the notoriety or popularity of the classic button down. This is not a collar that you are likely to find on an off the rack shirt as the skill level required to sew the fastening and affix buttons behind the points is quite high. This is a design that you’re only likely to find with a bespoke or made to measure shirtmaker.
As a made to measure shirt maker, Deo Veritas offers this collar as part of it’s standard collar offering. Design a dress shirt with a hidden button down collar on our site today. You can also use the code COLLAR20 for $20 off your first order.
DIY (Do it Yourself) Dress Shirt Collar Stays
Forgetting a pair of dress shirt collar stays while on the road is a common problem that many men can attest to having encountered. A great DIY solution that is perfect should you be in a hotel is to make your own dress shirt collar stays from a hotel key card. The key card itself is made from thicker plastic that is significantly better and more rigid than those that come with an off the rack dress shirt. Honestly, we like these stays as much as a metal collar stay as the length / width can be cut precisely which will give the collar a precise and sharp appearance.
Step 1 — Gather the necessary materials; Sharpie, Scissors, Hotel Key Card (or equivalent), existing collar stay (optional)
Step 2 — Stencil out the collar stay outline with a Sharpie. You don’t need an existing collar stay however, you can just hack away with a shape that has a triangular point. Try to keep the stay at / near 3″ in length
Step 3 — Using a plain old pair of scissors, cut out the outline of the stay. One thing you’ll notice with these key cards — they’re likely much thicker than the original stays that came with the shirt.
Step 4 — You’re done! Simply insert the newly formed collar stay into the diagonal collar stay slot.
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