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What is a Shawl Collar?

By Greer Hed
Updated May 21, 2024
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A shawl collar is a collar combined with a lapel. It is usually a rounded collar paired with a V-neckline that extends over the chest and tapers near the waist. This type of collar is commonly seen on cardigan sweaters, jackets, blouses and robes. The collar has its origins in the Victorian smoking jacket, whose collar style also inspired a style of lapel for dinner jackets.

Many garments have shawl collars in part because the shawl collar is a simple neckline to create. In sewing, a shawl collar has fewer pattern pieces than a notched collar, as the shawl style is an extension of the garment's lapel. A sewn collar of this type consists of a lower collar that is seamed at the back of the neck and an upper collar that forms the shawl portion of the garment. Shawl collars can also be knitted very simply. Knit as a wedged rectangular shape that matches the length of the neck opening, the collar is then seamed together with ends overlapping at the front of the garment.

Victorian smoking jackets, which were the first to features shawl collars, are garments made of silk or velvet with combined collar and lapels that could be either single- or double-breasted. Men donned these jackets instead of their tailcoats when they retired for a smoke so that their evening wear was protected from the smell of cigars. The smoking jacket also kept the tailcoat free from damage caused by smoke and burning tobacco. Originally, the smoking jacket was considered leisure or lounge wear, as its construction was based on that of the dressing gown.

Over time, the shawl collar seen on the smoking jacket was adapted onto the dinner jacket, a common component of a gentleman's tuxedo. Less formal jackets with the same style of lapel were also available. The more formal peaked collar was reserved for morning coats and double-breasted jackets. In modern times, both the older shawl collar and the dressier peaked collar are acceptable on a dinner jacket meant for formal wear.

The appearance of the shawl collar can vary greatly, from the subdued rounded collar of a dinner jacket to the over-sized lapels of a cardigan sweater. Shawl-collared garments are quite versatile: due to the rounded shape of the collar and the V shape of the neckline, the shawl collar pairs well with a wide variety of neckline shapes. The collar style is considered by many to be very flattering, as the shawl area of the collar frames the face of the wearer and the long lapels give the appearance of a lean silhouette.

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Discussion Comments

By lighth0se33 — On Jun 14, 2012

@cloudel – I think a shawl collar on men looks good! I dated a guy in college who wore a lot of cardigans, and they all had shawl collars.

They weren't as wide or noticeable as the ones on most women's clothes. I think I really loved how understated they were. Obviously, a cardigan needs some sort of collar, but a big one with sections would just be too much.

When we met, he was wearing a brown cashmere sweater with a shawl collar. I remember being impressed by his neat appearance. He gave off the vibe of someone who had it all together.

By cloudel — On Jun 13, 2012

All the men in my sister's wedding had to wear shawl collar vests. Several of them complained that they felt self-conscious in them, but I thought they looked good.

I suppose most men are just not used to wearing vests instead of jackets. My sister's wedding colors were silver and maroon, and either of those colors would have looked overwhelming on a jacket.

The men wore silver vests with narrow shawl collars. I think that the nice rounded lapels made them stand out less than notched collars would have.

The caterers were also wearing shawl collar vests, but my sister had nothing to do with this. It was their uniform. Luckily, theirs were black, so no one confused the groomsmen with the caterers.

By seag47 — On Jun 12, 2012

I have a royal purple shawl collar wrap that I love wearing to holiday parties. It is made of really nice material, so it looks somewhat formal.

One side of the shawl collar extends diagonally across my torso, all the way to my waist on the right. The other side is tucked underneath the long one right below the chest.

The collar is ribbed, but the rest of the sweater is not. I think every shawl collar I have seen has been ribbed. Maybe that helps it hold its shape.

The sleeves are baggy on purpose. I like having part of the garment be roomy. I don't feel totally constricted this way.

By Perdido — On Jun 12, 2012

@turkay1 – I know what you mean. I have several shawl collar pullovers that seem to even out my upper body.

Most of mine are cotton and not as thick as a sweater. I wear them in autumn, before the time for fuzzy sweaters has arrived.

I do have one shawl collar sweater that I wear when it's really cold out. Instead of spaghetti strap shirts, I have a few tight, thin cotton shirts that fit snugly enough to go under the sweater. They have a rounded neckline, so when I wear one, it is high enough to cover my chest area.

By burcidi — On Jun 11, 2012

The history about smoking jackets is so interesting. I wonder why the shawl collar was found suitable for smoking jackets and not a different type of collar. There must be a reason behind it. Could it be because it allows the person wearing it to cover up undergarments more easily?

I saw a "smoking" shawl collar jacket in a museum once. It definitely gave the message that it is a leisure garment and not anything very formal. But surprisingly, it was made of really nice material. I think they said that it was made of silk and it had a beautiful color and design on the fabric. Clearly, smoking jackets cost a lot back then.

Since the point of the smoking jacket is to absorb all the odor of smokes and keep the other clothes clean, one would think that a smoking jacket would be less luxurious. But it didn't seem that way to me at all, I think a smoking jacket could not be afforded by everyone in the Victorian times. So I'm not surprised that it led the shawl collar to be used for more formal jackets later on.

By candyquilt — On Jun 11, 2012

I mostly wear shawl collar sweaters with a V-neckline in winter. I think the shawl collar compliments my body much more than regular collars. I have wide shoulders and a small chest. The shawl collar makes my shoulders look smaller while making it more proportional to my chest.

Shawl collar sweaters for women almost always requires a second shirt underneath. I usually wear spaghetti strap shirts in different colors. I like this about shawl collars, they look very fashionable.

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