By any account, Entrapment (Jon Amiel, 1999) should have been an eminently forgettable movie. Some might have fleeting if fond memories of Catherine Zeta-Jones performing unlikely contortions on a marble floor in a jumpsuit that looks like it was assembled entirely from black bin liners. And yet the movie stuck in my mind for the next decades for a rather different reason. In the closing scene, Sean Connery sits on a train platform looking very beige in his summer suit cut with awkwardly wide lapels and paired with a cream-colored collarless shirt. The friend with whom I watched the movie at the time let out a slow sigh. “Oh Sean. Collarless shirts. They just don’t work,” he said. It was impossible to argue with his astute assessment, and every time that I wandered towards the collarless shirt section in the next years, I could hear my friend’s warning words in my head. They just don’t work.
But here I am, two decades after Sean’s sartorial snafu, and I’m the proud owner of at least three collarless/grandad/Gandhi-collar shirts. What changed my mind? The first incident was almost by accident. Rummaging through the Zimmerli of Switzerland sale, I came across an ice-blue collarless shirt with a button tab halfway down the placket. Clearly designed to be gracefully worn in bed but proudly paraded in public by its new owner, I took the plunge and haven’t looked back since. Shanked buttons, short cuffs, generous yet not-blousy cut – the perfect summer accoutrement.
Emboldened by my first foray, I ventured deeper into the collarless coalmine. One day late in August, with Jermyn Street in the final throes of its summer sale, I came across a box of vintage collarless shirts at New & Lingwood, each with a detachable collar and a 20-pound price tag that screamed: Please buy me! I picked up a lovely blue-and-white striped number and invested in a bronze pin, just in case I’d want to pop on the collar at some later point. But I‘ve happily worn it without since.
So, where did Sean go so horribly wrong and why have I managed to ostracize the beige curse of Entrapment? The simple answer lies in the top button. Keep it open, will you! In fact, keep the two top buttons open. Grandad shirts are meant to be worn casually. If you want to look like a cross between an aging film star and a vicar, sure, fasten those top buttons. But don’t come running if you get laughed out of the room. Two buttons make all the difference between masquerading as a washed up extra on The Karate Kid and looking like you’ve just headed up from the beach, where you joyfully necked a bottle of rosé with a woman who’d even look good in a black bin liner. And you obviously know which of the two you’d want to be. A collarless shirt looks cool with a low-cut V-neck lambswool jumper or a sweater vest, but pairing it with a coat is pushing it. Something where the non-collar meets the lapel just doesn’t work. And we’ve heard that line before, haven’t we? DD/MM