A Pin Too Far Revisited

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Continuing  on the collar-pin theme, back in February I came across an image that I’m guessing was posted to Ivy’s Facebook group by Marc Chevalier, menswear omnivore and collector of vintage images. It showed Fred Astaire simultaneously wearing a collar pin and buttondown, not with the collar hanging straight and the buttons unused, as in RL images, but with the buttons actually fastened.

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I wrote:

I’d heard of the practice, but thought it just a sartorial rumor. Well here it is in all it’s gaudy glory, and on non other than legendary dresser Fred Astaire, who was fond of both collar pins and Brooks Brothers buttondowns, and in the 1935 photo above can be seen combining the two. If he looks a bit sheepish, maybe that’s because he’s wondering if perhaps he’s gone too far. A necktie worn as a belt is one thing, but this?

I also remember a conversation with Tom Davis, legendary head of Brooks Brothers’ custom shirt program who’s been with the company for half a century. Our chat invariably turned to buttondown collars, and Mr. Davis said he recalled guys wearing collar pins with fastened buttondowns. He seemed to characterize it not as gauche, but as a particularly GTH gesture by guys who knew better but did it anyway. That was the whole point.

And now yesterday another Facebook group image collector, Carmelo, posts the image at top from a 1950 issue of Esquire (head over here for access to its archives) showing that this is not merely a case of Astaire and one of his sprezzy little tricks. Here’s a depiction of college men doing it, just as Tom Davis had said.

There’s a menswear event tomorrow called The Proper Kit and I’m very tempted to do this, simply because it would be so unabashedly improper.

Here’s the full page from Esquire, which says “Note the pin on the button down collar; keeps the tie neatly in place.” Indeed, the very purpose of a pin, but rather at odds with the point of a buttondown. — CC

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44 Comments on "A Pin Too Far Revisited"

  1. Christopher Hosford | November 4, 2016 at 11:18 am |

    Yes, a bit too much, in my opinion and rather funny. Perhaps next you’ll examine the use of tie clasps as well. I notice lately young men here in NYC are wearing skinny ties with a tie clasp bar fastened very high on the tie, maybe 8 inches below the knot. Seems like an affectation to me, kinda like the habit a few years ago of wearing a 3-button jacket and buttoning ONLY the top button, which thankfully has now gone out of fashion! In fact, true Ivy style doesn’t seem to include a tie clasp at all. Or am I mistaken about that?

  2. Marc Chevalier | November 4, 2016 at 11:42 am |

    It’s the equivalent of wearing both a belt and suspenders at one sitting: “closure and support at all costs.”

  3. OK I just tried it on and it was a little, shall we say, busy up there…

  4. Yes, I see the high tie bar here in NY as well. Some bartenders who sport the Jerry Thomas shirtsleeves and waistcoat old-school bartender look accessorize with a high tie-bar. It has to be high or the waistcoat would hide it. Needless to say, the tie bar and waistcoat is also redundant in a belt-and-suspenders sense.

  5. I agree with M. Chevalier, it’s redundant and busy, too. I do like the RL look of pinning an OCBD with the buttons undone. That looks very rakish and sprezzy.

  6. The only way I would wear a tie bar would be in the slanted style of Fred Astaire. But this pinned collar is one thing I won’t be copying. I’d sooner use a tie for a belt.

  7. Charlottesville | November 4, 2016 at 1:26 pm |

    I wish the high-placed, horizontal tie clasp were confined to NY. Even down here in small town Virginny, it is part of the look for the 30-and-under set, who no-doubt saw it on TV (perhaps on the show White Collar, which is wear I first saw it 5 or more years ago). I saw one earlier today, worn by a young lawyer who should know better. I am tempted to explain that if one wants to wear a tie clasp, it should be (a) angled and (b) hidden to the world when the jacket is buttoned, but I am trying to confine myself to leading by example. Like bartenders in hipster beards, tweedy vests, selvedge jeans and work boots, we get the same blights as the rest of the country, although by the time they make it here, they are no-doubt already passé in Brooklyn. As for the tie-pin with BD, please put me in the “No” column, despite what St. Fred may be able to get away with.

  8. Christopher Hosford | November 4, 2016 at 1:35 pm |

    Fred, of course, could get away with anything (AND, danced with that incredible hottie, Eleanor Powell). Alas, would it only be so for the rest of us (including, ah, Eleanor).

  9. NaturalShoulder | November 4, 2016 at 1:42 pm |

    Question for those who use collar pins. Do you also use the collar bar instead of the actual pin itself to protect the shirt or is that equivalent to donning a pre-tied tie?

  10. I don’t ever recall seeing anyone with both button down shirt and collar pin. My uncle wore an outfit similar to the guy on the right. A corded sport coat, I recall borrowing from him when I was in the seventh grade for a band concert. I played trumpet back then, and thought I was quite the ivy league “dude”. I recall a homemade black pocket square that my aunt sewed, to complement my Dad’s narrow black knit tie.

    Collar pin with button down is a little too much, even for Fred.

  11. Vern Trotter | November 4, 2016 at 1:45 pm |

    I believe the first time I saw the button down with collar pin was in the mid 1950s worn by the great Aussie tennis player, Lew Hoad. From time to time, on uber sophisticated gents, I have seen it but on nobody that I knew well enough to discuss it. The collar points were a little longer in the past and may have helped to make it comfortable. I think I shall wear one with a Mercer OCBD this weekend as sort of a bucket list objective just to say I have done so.

    I have never liked the tie bar except when it was a commemorative medal like the PT109 bar given out by JFK. I always wear the thumbprint sold by Press and then keep it unseen behind the middle button of a three button coat.

  12. Incredible hottie Eleanor Powell? Jane Powell, maybe.

    I think his cutest partner was June Allysson.

    Of course he had those hotties later in his career, like Cyd Charisse….

  13. @ Mr. NaturalShoulder

    In the early 1980’s, when I used to wear collar pins, I noticed even with the clip kind, collars used to get frayed after a while. Some shirts had holes sewn into the collar for pin use. I think I still have a barbell style pin, which one end screwed apart to allow easier insertion. I believe it was sterling silver, or at least plated.

    I wore button down shirts exclusively since, for you never knew if the collar pin would come loose, and you’d be walking around with it crooked or unfastened at one end, looking stupid. The equivalent of having lettuce or something sticking between your teeth, or soup or gravy stain on your tie.

  14. Vern Trotter | November 4, 2016 at 2:03 pm |

    Eleanor Powell it was. Best known for dancing to “Begin the Beguine!” with Fred.

  15. Christopher Hosford | November 4, 2016 at 2:03 pm |

    They say that when Astaire danced with a partner, all you watched was Fred, not anyone else. For me (I stress that), I couldn’t keep my eyes off Eleanor Powell, never Fred. I have a weakness for All-American girls with incredible gifts. (Brooks girls??)

  16. Jock Hamilton | November 4, 2016 at 2:10 pm |

    This is too effete for my tastes, much like Astaire himself.

  17. Christopher Hosford | November 4, 2016 at 2:15 pm |

    OK now, I think this is an essential question that Wriggles notes: Which is correct — the collar pin that affixes to the collar via springy clasps, or the one that goes through holes? Is there a pecking order of correct Ivy-osity that lies within this question?

  18. Marc Chevalier | November 4, 2016 at 3:10 pm |

    @Christopher Hosford:

    Yes, there is a pecking order. First in line is the collar pin which resembles a small safety pin. Gold-plated or sterling silver, depending on your outfit.

    After that is … nothing else. So-called ‘barbell’ collar pins are not Ivy. Clip-on collar bars of any design (including ones which look like safety pins) are right out.

  19. Straight Arrow | November 4, 2016 at 3:51 pm |

    A perfect solution for those of who don’t like the unsightly collar roll

  20. Straight Arrow | November 4, 2016 at 3:52 pm |

    …those of us…

  21. I had a job interview with Thomas Gates, chairman of Morgan Guaranty, after he had been Eisenhower’s Secretary of Defense, and he was was wearing a tie pin with a button down shirt. 1963 I think.

  22. Not getting into which collar pins are acceptable Ivy or not, since reading this article this afternoon, I decided to demo a gold clip on version with my button down and tie.

    Really, looks OK to me, anyhow. I think older guys like myself are more confident and relaxed, or is it we just don’t give a d–n?

    I don’t intend to utilize a collar pin, or a tie bar. Button down shirts do away with the fiddling and fuss, and ties can flop around at will.

  23. Only ever used “brass” safety pin collar pin on pointed collar shirts and occasionally club collar shirts. I have never worn a pin on BDs, it would seem redundant unless one live where there were constant 120 mile an hour winds. I’ve found that the pin holes repair in the wash.

  24. Also, many WWI and early WWII British officers worn collar pins. I believe American general officers did too.

  25. Marc is correct about the pecking order. Paul Winston has told me that the purist would just stick the pin right through the shirt and not get all middle-class neatness freak (example, Ronald Reagan) and buy a shirt with holes already in it.

    I like short girls, hence shrimp Jane Powell over lanky Eleanor.

  26. If we must question if Mr. Astaire should wear a collar pin with a button down, I suggest we head over to YouTube and observe his manner of dress while dancing with Cyd Charisse in Central Park (from the film “The Band Wagon”). Any man who can be that effortlessly elegant, I say, can wear a collar pin with a button down. Case closed.

  27. He also wore buttondowns with double-breasteds. I stand on the rules guys with that and say “bad move.”

  28. Marc Chevalier | November 4, 2016 at 6:50 pm |

    …. and Cary Grant wore custom-made buttondown-collared shirts with French cuffs.

  29. @Christian:

    Isn’t that really the point though, Christian. The fact that he did both, when I am sure he knew better, gave him a sense of panache and style that IMHO sets him above the rest of us mere mortals.

  30. Absolutely. He was an innovator and an orginal. He broke rules and “got away with them,” just because he was so talented and charming. That’s the most elusive part when we talk about clothes and style.

    But personally perhaps I’m a bit punctilious, but not only would I not wear a BD with a DB, with my double-vented “Continental” jacket I only wear pinned club or straight collar; no buttondown with double vents.

  31. @Christian:

    You are so right when you say “thats the most elusive part when we talk about clothes and style”.

    Thank you for the gentlemanly discourse, and I guess it goes without saying, your thought-provoking posts!

  32. If you’re fascinated by “that certain something” when it comes to style and enjoy hearing it articulated, you should check out some of the great 19th-century dandy texts, such as Barbey’s “Dandyism” and Baudelaire’s essay on dandies from “The Painter Of Modern Life.”

  33. I also love the look of a pinned club collar. That, to me, is the one collar that just needs to be pinned.

  34. Actually a simpler and cleaner look is the tab collar, which I prefer to wearing pins, although I wear pins. I buy tab collars shirts whenever I find good ones. This will get me criticised, but I’d like to see someone do tab club collars.

    While I have worn BDs with my navy DB single vent summer weight gab blazer occasionally it doesn’t “feel” right, but you do what you do in a pinch or follow your own style. DBs usually look better with any collar other than BDs.

  35. Mac, I wish I knew anyone who still made tab collars because I’d like to have some. Especially a club tab collar.

  36. I am at The Proper Kit. I met CC, so I can report he is wearing a collar pin but *no* button-down.

    (As for what else we talked about, I’ll leave that to him.)

  37. Aren’t tab collars hard to fit your tie into? I remember having one years ago. At least with a pin if you have a thick tie you can just pin it lower down. But with a tab you’re stuck with the size of the opening.

  38. Collar pin with button down….no way.
    DB and BD…never.

  39. That’s a good point, Christian, but if you make a simple four-in-hand knot they’re usually small so I don’t think that it would a problem.

  40. Except that then the tie’s too long.

  41. Christian
    That’s true with a collar pin too, the pin worn too low on the collar makes it look like a diaper around one’s neck.

  42. Well the knot doesn’t have to be extra small, which would make the tie extra long, but a good small sized four in hand should work.

  43. Robert Ginsburg | November 8, 2016 at 2:04 am |

    My friend and professor at the University of Texas, Walt W. Rostow, wore button downs with a collar pin routinely. He was President Johnson’s National Security Advisor and a Yale man. In fact, if you google him you will see him wearing just that.

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