Men who have their shirts made must consider quite a few details about a shirt’s collar to achieve a look proportionate with the face and suitable for the occasion. There is the collar’s style and stiffness, both of which suggest a shirt’s formality; there is point length, which can determine whether a spread collar stays tucked under one’s lapel or whether a button-down collar has sufficient roll; and there is tie space, a small but significant part of a shirt’s composition that can alter the harmony between the face, the necktie, and the collar. Of course, by tie space we mean not the space between the collar leaves as they roll, spread, or curve away, but the point where the leaves meet the neck, and, depending on the style of collar, there can be space there or not.
Perhaps the most common collar that shirtmakers cut is the spread collar, which though known for its considerable tie space often has none, like the shirt on Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter in the photo. In fact, the common advice on the matter, whether from a shirtmaker or one of Flusser’s books, is that a spread collar should never have tie space. The argument is that there is ample room within the spread for a four-in-hand or a Windsor knot, and that the paramount issue with a spread collar is for its leaves to form an inverted V. The V, coupled with the spread collar’s typically stiff interlining, helps frame the face and present something akin to symmetry. It is a clean look, and when executed well, which is to say when the spread is balanced, may be the best way to showcase many different facial shapes unobtrusively.
The challenge with that approach is that there is no place for the necktie knot to rest. This is not to say that the tie won’t fit between the collar leaves, it will. But when those leaves touch at the neck, they tend to push the knot downward and cause a sliver of the collar band to show above the tie. A good deal of the time this breaks the desired line and can make the necktie appear stuffed into the collar, regardless of how arched it may be. So when trying to present a clean, harmonious look, consider that there should be some space for the tie at the neck. Less than a centimeter between the leaves lets a knot fit perfectly in the collar.
When the straight, inflexible lines of the regular spread collar is too formal, adding even more tie space, two centimeters or so, will allow the collar to roll a little (as will using a more pliable interlining), almost but not quite like a button-down collar does, as in the photo of Luciano Barbera. This is something of a default Italian look, softer, rounder, and more about the wearer than the article worn.
For club and straight point collars, tie space may be even more important since there is generally less room for a necktie. Indeed, when selecting a club or point collar the question might be “Where does the tie go?.” As the photo of Anthony Biddle suggests, when there is no tie space with these styles, collar leaves cover all but the narrowest of knots. Mr. Biddle manages to look elegant anyway, of course (has he ever otherwise?), but he flirts with disproportion; mainly it seems to help broaden his shoulders. So unless a man needs to right some other imbalance, he might do better to allot some space between the leaves of these collar styles, too, taking care that the space corresponds to the size of the knot he intends to place there.