Often associated with the Oscars, lavish galas and James Bond, shawl collars are an elegant choice.
Unlike notched lapels, they feature the formality and refinement required for formal events.
Their graceful and minimalist design is reminiscent of smoking jackets worn during the Victorian era as seen on super sleuth Sherlock Holmes. However, how can be one worn today?
In the following guide, you will discover the shawl collar, how and when to wear one as well as the best face and body shapes that it tends to suit.
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The shawl collar (sometimes referred to as “shawl lapel” or “roll collar”) is one of the three main types of men’s suit jacket lapels. However, it’s both one of the most exclusive and unique designs.
Therefore, it’s rarity makes it harder to style as it can be quite elusive for some people. Nevertheless, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about shawls and when to wear them.
Best guide to shawl lapels. Learn about one of the most elegant suit lapels with BU!
What Is A Shawl Lapel?
First things first: the term “shawl lapel” is a bit of a misnomer. Why?
The reason for this is that the shawl style is all collar, even though it extends to where the lapel typically is and technically becomes a lapel at that point. We say that it’s “all collar” because, unlike peaked or notch lapels, there’s no separation between the collar and lapel. It’s all one piece.
Still, the term “shawl lapel” gets used, and it’s important to be aware of it.
Shawl collars live almost exclusively in the world of black tie. You’ll never see this lapel style on a business suit (where notched lapels are the appropriate option), and you shouldn’t see it worn during the daytime either.
It’s a holdover detail from the men’s smoking jacket, which is why the shawl collar looks a bit like a detail you’d see on a bathrobe, albeit much dressier.
A favorite of the likes of the Rat Pack, shawl collar smoking jackets and tuxedos conjure up images of crooners having too many martinis and smoking Lucky Strikes by the pack. They’re rare, but they’re natty as all get-out.
Best Jacket Styles
Not every jacket style will look appropriate with a shawl collar. The two styles listed below are the ones generally considered “correct” when made with a shawl lapel:
Tuxedos & Shawl Collars
Regardless of whether your tuxedo jacket is single-breasted or double-breasted, it may take a shawl collar. Keep in mind that regardless of lapel style, single-breasted tux jackets should only ever have one button, and double-breasted ones should be 6×2 models.
Shawl collars work particularly well when paired with cummerbunds. The curvature of the cummerbund is a natural mate to the curved silhouette of the shawl collar.
For more information on evening semi-formalwear, see our guide to tuxedos and smoking jackets.
Smoking Jackets & Shawl Lapels
The smoking jacket is, in fact, where the shawl collar got its start. A Victorian era garment, smoking jackets were originally only worn in the home as the gentleman of the house retired to his study after dinner for some reading, a cigar, and a glass of port. The jacket served to protect his clothes from the smell of smoke and also falling ashes from his stogie.
The garment was so casual and personal that it was considered inappropriate for a man to be seen in it by anyone except his family or personal staff, such as a butler. It happened to take a shawl collar, and in the 1950’s, the smoking jacket became a correct substitute for a standard dinner jacket. The collar came with it.
Is A Shawl Lapel Right For Your Face Shape?
The shape of our faces is an incredibly important, too-often-overlooked aspect of style. If you’re unaware of yours or would like to double-check, please have a look at our guide to identifying your face shape.
If you could use one word to describe the shawl collar, that would be “curved.” As it lacks angularity entirely, it needs some angularity in the face above it to balance things out.
The face shapes listed below will look best with a shawl collar jacket.
Diamond Face Shapes
The Diamond face shape -longer than it is wide, with strong cheekbones and an angular jaw- is all about sharp angles and lines. The curvature of the shawl lapel chisels away at this angularity, making for a pleasing contrast.
Triangle Face Shapes
Another face defined by its sharpness (particularly of the chin), Triangle faces do well with shawl collars because the sharp points of the face are tempered with the lapel’s lack of points altogether. If you have a Triangle shaped face, a shawl collar will look great on you.
Square Face Shapes
Square faces are characterized by an angular jaw and all-around width. As it’s comprised of various right angles, it syncs beautifully with the shawl lapel, whose curvature softens the square face.
Is A Shawl Lapel Right For Your Body Type?
If you’re unaware of your body type, you’re doing yourself a disservice. One of the key elements of dressing well is understanding your body type and dressing to it. If you’re unsure of what you’re is and would like to learn, take a quick look at our body type guide.
As with any lapel, width is key. Larger men should wear wider lapels, whereas smaller men should opt for narrower ones. Still, the curve of the shawl collar works better with some body types than others. Below are the body types we find to be most sympathetic to the shawl lapel.
Thin Men & Shawl Lapels
Thin men tend to be angular. Without any roundness to soften them, they benefit from a lapel style that will do that for them. The shawl collar is just the lapel for the job.
- Recommended width: 3″
Tall & Thin Men & Shawl Lapels
Men who are tall and thin have a tendency to look even thinner than similarly thin men of average height. This is because length has a slimming effect, so tall thin men can look gaunt if they’re not careful.
Opting for a shawl collar will give you the roundness you need to appear less sharp and lanky.
- Recommended width: 3 3/8″
What Next? More Lapel Styles
Though shawl collars are relatively rare, they offer an unparalleled comfort and rakishness. Now that you’ve read about them, we invite you to take a look at our other pages on lapel styles: