Many people consider the wing-collar shirt the quintessential shirt for black tie. They like how it is distinguished from an ordinary turn-down collar like a spread collar or point collar. They like how it stands up high to make a strong impression. They like it because it looks more old-fashioned. They might be under the impression that it’s necessary or more proper for black tie. James Bond and many other well-dressed men disagree.
The first accessories worn with the dinner jacket originated with full evening dress (white tie), including the stiff-fronted shirt with a starched detachable collar. The wing collar is the most well-known of the starched collar styles and was historically always a detachable collar. The imperial collar is another starched stand-up collar style, which is a predecessor to the wing collar and stands up straight without wings. There are also detachable starched turn-down collars, which some men wore for black tie instead of a stand-up collar. Detachable turn-down collars are still worn for morning dress.
A new shirt fashion emerged for black tie in the 1930s that was popularised by the Prince of Wales (later known as Edward VIII and the Duke of Windsor). For black tie, he replaced the stiff shirt with a shirt that has a soft, attached turn-down collar, a soft pleated front and double cuffs. Black tie fully transitioned away from starched wing-collared shirts by the end of World War II, leaving them exclusively for tailcoats.
James Bond always wears shirts with a turn-down collar for black tie, never a wing collar. If you think otherwise, chalk it up to the Mandela Effect. (Dolly didn’t wear braces either.) When James Bond appeared on screen in 1954 in the original television adaptation of Casino Royale, he wears a point collar with his dinner jacket. He wears a spread collar with his dinner jacket in Dr. No in 1962, and depending on contemporary fashions during subsequent films he wears spread, semi-spread and point collars with his dinner jackets. The collars on his evening shirts usually matches the shirt collars he wears with his suits in the same film. There are exceptions to the rule in a few of the Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig films.
Bond never wears a wing collar for black tie because since World War II the British have generally considered it outdated costume and lacking in good taste. Taste is, of course, subjective, but British menswear taste has historically been defined by the royalty, who have been wearing soft turn-down collars for black tie since the 1930s. James Bond usually follows what his fellow countrymen largely consider to be in good taste. Since James Bond is the primary tastemaker for this blog, this blog generally takes the position that wing collars are not for black tie.
We are free to wear whatever styles we want, but the way we dress is a form of communication and we should be aware of what our clothes are communicating to those around us. James Bond communicates that he is a sophisticated Briton in a way that his peers recognise through his choice of clothes, and wearing turn-down collars with his dinner jackets is part of this.
The wing collar saw a renaissance for black tie in the 1980s and 1990s, but James Bond maintained his preference for the turn-down collar during that time. When the wing collar returned in the last quarter of the 20th century, it came in a new form as an attached collar. The attached wing collar rarely has the stiffness, shape or height of the authentic detachable wing collar. The shirts it comes attached to often have a soft pleated front instead of the traditional boiled or marcella front. This shirt is not an historically accurate style for black tie or white tie. Like the pre-tied bow tie and clip-on braces, it is a shortcut and usually lacks the elegance, drama and tradition of the original article.
Wing collars were historically worn for morning dress—as well as with lounge suits—during the Victorian era. The detachable turn-down collar first became popular with lounge suits, and around the turn of the 20th century it also became popular for morning dress alongside the wing and imperial collars. By the middle of the 20th century the turn-down collar had replaced wing and imperial collars for morning dress, but unlike for black tie the proper morning dress collar continues to be detachable. Morning dress is more formal than black tie, hence the stiffer collar.
Black lounge, an outdated form of dress where a black lounge coat replaces a morning coat, should also be worn with a detachable turn-down collar. George Lazenby wears a shirt such a collar in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with his black lounge wedding attire.
When James Bond wears morning dress to Royal Ascot in A View to a Kill, he wears a shirt with a cutaway collar. It is most likely an attached collar, but in an effort to look more formal his collar has a wider spread than what he ordinarily wears in the film.
Like for black tie, shirts with an attached wing collar became popular to morning dress in the last quarter of the 20th century, particularly in America. Hire shops, who pair the same wing collar shirts for both morning dress and black tie, may be responsible for this trend. The wedding party’s attire for Felix Leiter’s wedding in Licence to Kill has all the hallmarks of hired wedding attire of the 1980s, including clip-on dress cravats and too many similar shades of grey that clash with each other.
This is where title of this blog post isn’t 100% accurate. James Bond wears a wing collar—the dreaded attached-wing-collar shirt with a fine pleated front—for Felix’s wedding. This is the one and only time James Bond wears a wing collar. Since the outfit was hired in America and probably not by Bond, Bond should not be blamed for this morning dress mistake. Unlike the morning dress in A View to a Kill, this outfit shouldn’t be admired as an example of how Bond would dress, especially since he didn’t choose to dress this way.
Full Evening Dress
A shirt with a wing collar, a boiled or marcella front and single cuffs—a stiff cuff that takes cufflinks but does not fold over—is still the only choice for full evening dress, or white tie. White tie is rarely worn today, and it has been very uncommon since the middle of the 20th century. It’s a style that is two centuries old and looks it because it’s quite different from anything else men wear today.
White tie has been approaching costume in the 21st century, but because is still the dress code for certain occasions today the evening tailcoat and its accompanying wing collar shirt are not yet costume. Classical musicians are also amongst those who still wear white tie, but fewer orchestras are wearing it today than they were just a few years ago, and performance attire is somewhere between uniform and costume. Even if orchestras still keep the evening tailcoat and wing collar alive, they may sooner become extinct in the wild.
An article at Gentleman’s Gazette formerly published at Black Tie Guide takes an interesting look at the wing collar versus the turn-down collar for black tie.