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The history of the camp collar shirt and how to wear it

Known sometimes as a Cuban shirt or pyjama collar (or bowling shirt or cabana shirt or aloha shirt or safari shirt or…), the camp collar shirt has a long history that places it right in the middle of essential summer style today. 

It’s a must-have for the season, teetering toward the casual side but easy enough to dress up when the occasion calls for it. If you don’t have a few in your closet yet, it’s time to stock up. 

Here’s a bit of the story behind camp collar shirts, plus a few ways you should be wearing them without looking like Tony Soprano this summer.

The look we aren’t going for. Sorry, Tony.

Characteristics of a camp collar shirt

Camp collar shirt close up

Despite their many names, camp collar shirts are all characterized by the same defining features, the most important of which is a soft, double-notched, one-piece collar that is sewn directly to the body of the shirt. This allows the collar to lay flat against the shirt. Some have a top button or a loop closure (loop shown in the photo above), but many have neither. 

Typically camp collar shirts have a boxy fit, straight hem, and short sleeves, making them breezy and comfortable in the summer heat. You’ll often see them made of lightweight linen, silk, lyocell, cotton, viscose, or a blend. Avoid polyester blends, which will trap heat rather than keeping you cool, like the shirt is meant to do.

The history of the camp collar

The camp collar shirt dates back to the 19th century, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that it solidified its place in North American style. 

The origins of the camp collar shirt have been debated for years, some saying it comes from the Philippines and others saying it comes from Cuba, though the Cuban version is likely what popularized it in the United States.

Cuban men wore a lightweight work shirt called a Guayabera, which had an easygoing fit and a loose collar to keep them cool when working outdoors in the heat. 

Guayabera shirt

Cuban guayabera circa 1956

Around the 1930s, the flat-laying collar became a go-to in casual men’s style, though the collar was longer and wider than its 1950s counterparts. However, typical buttoned dress shirts were still the standard attire for men. 

Old advertisement showing pointed flat-collared shirts from the 1930s

Pointed, flat-collar shirts of the 1930s

During the Cuban Exile in 1959, Cubans began to arrive in Miami and New York, bringing with them not only new styles of music and food, but also clothing--notably, guayaberas. It didn’t take long for Americans to embrace the casual shirt style, and soon it became firmly embedded in mid-century fashion in the US. 

James bond in pink camp collar shirt

James Bond in a camp collar shirt

It became a subtle statement of rebellion against the restrictive shirt and tie attire that American men most often wore out of the house. Since then, the camp collar shirt has been seen on some of America’s most defining male characters: James Bond, JFK, Elvis, Ernest Hemmingway, and Martin Luther King Jr., to name a few. The camp collar shirt became the epitome of elevated leisurewear.

Ernest Hemmingway in a camp collar shirt

Ernest Hemmingway in a camp collar shirt

The style waned for a bit through the ‘90s, but it began to pick up momentum again with the popularity of the TV show Mad Men, and in 2016 it started dominating runways. Recently, it’s been seen on modern-day fashion trendsetters like Jeff Goldblum, Pharell Williams, Donald Glover, and James Harden.

Donald Glover in a camp collar shirt

Donald Glover in a solid black camp collar look

Today it has evolved to be everyone’s favourite vacation shirt, not to mention an excellent choice for parties, nights on the town, and summer events. Call it your new “going out” shirt.

HOW TO WEAR THE CAMP COLLAR SHIRT

Be sure to err on the larger side when it comes to camp collar shirts. You want it to have plenty of volume to create the flowy, relaxed feel. That being said, a proper fit is still important. If the shoulder sits too low, you risk looking like an unfashionable dad on a sad vacation.

Feel free to experiment with prints, though a solid colour is great as well, especially under a sport jacket. Camp collar shirts are inherently a little playful, so you can get away with bold looks if you play it right. 

Though camp collar shirts are made to be worn untucked, you can tuck them in for a slightly different silhouette if you wish. You can wear them over a solid t-shirt, but keep in mind that wearing a ribbed tank top and gold chain underneath will give you heavy Italian gangster vibes (see Tony Soprano above). 

4 KEY CAMP COLLAR LOOKS

The Throwback

Striped camp collar shirt

Lux leisurewear. Embrace the mid-century vibes in an updated way. Choose loose-fitting linen trousers with a retro-inspired camp collar shirt, like one with wide vertical stripes. Leave it untucked and wear it with suede driving shoes or boat shoes.

The Weekend 

Geometry camp collar shirt worn with denim overshirt overtop, showing the Weekend look

Throw on a camp collar shirt with jeans and a denim overshirt for a universal casual look that’s a few steps above just jeans and a tee. The easygoing vibes and neutral backdrop give you the chance to play around with different prints and colours. Effortless for day and night. 

The South Pointe Pier

The south point pier look - navy dotted camp collar shirt worn with shorts and suede slides

For beachy vacation vibes, wear your camp collar shirt with an extra button or two open. Slip on suede slides and choose shorts that are on the slimmer side to balance out the volume on top. 

The Miami Date Night

Miami date night look - camp collar shirt worn under berry toned sport jacket

If you’re wearing a camp collar shirt under a sport jacket, choose a simple print or solid coloured shirt, and go for a lightweight jacket like a linen or silk blend. It's a great look for summer events and date nights. Keep the shirt collar inside the jacket unless you’re feeling like an Italian mobster. But we aren’t judging either way. 

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Ready to embrace the trend? Shop our camp collar shirts online. 


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