Assuming the Collar-ary based on the Average.

Jim writes:

One of my problems is I have a GIANT neck compared to the rest of my body. I have 19 1/2" neck, but my body is much smaller. When I buy a 19ish shirt, the body is like a nightgown. My weight fluctuates quite a bit, 230-255, and custom shirts are expensive and hard to get a great fit. Any tips?


Hey Jim,

I was just listening to a story that is quite relevant to your situation on one of my favorite podcasts, 99% Invisible. In Episode 226, “On Average” they discuss the 19th-century mathematician Quetelet who applied the concept of a mathematical average to try to find the average body size, which he supposed would be the ideal human. Abraham Lincoln implemented his ideas of the average body to quickly outfit the massive army needed to fight the Civil War by establishing our modern concept of clothing sizes: large, medium, and small. Standard sizes allowed uniforms to be mass produced; traditionally, uniforms were tailor-made for each soldier. As soldiers enter the army, to this day, their measurements are taken, and their information is added to the growing data set that is used to calculate the average body proportions.
The idea of the average man continued to dictate lots of military design beyond clothing.  Upon investigating why there were so many deaths of US pilots during World War II, the first war that depended on air superiority, a team of investigators started wondering whether the design of the cockpit was contributing to the inability of the pilots to adequately control the plane in the heat of battle.  The size of the seat, the location of the controls, the height of the pedals, etc., were designed to the specifications of the average pilot. They started measuring the men to find out how many of the individual pilots were average and after looking at the individual measurements of thousands of pilots, the investigators realized something amazing: not a single airman fit all the dimensions of the average person. They had been designing the cockpit for the myth of the average man, but a truly average man didn't exist.
The Military overcame this by pioneering the science of Ergonomics and developed innovations like adjustable seats and pedals, but the clothing industry is still in the 19th-century so to speak.  The proportions of the shirts you buy are based on the average measurement of most people with a 19 ½” neck. It's not some conspiracy but just the reality of an industry that operates on thin profit margins and has to compromise on issues like this to mass produce clothes at a low enough price to turn a profit. For each different "fit" they need to make, they pair down the potential market and increase their production costs for no foreseeable benefit. The average person doesn't exist, and as long as we are in the tax bracket that requires you and me both to buy clothes off the rack, we are going to have to deal with the things about us that defy the average.
I can think of a few solutions for your too large neck, and I’m sure I’ll cover one or two things you’ve thought of. I’ll list them in order of expense.
$0-The first is just to pull the excess fabric in your billowing shirts to your sides and fold it over over your hips when you tuck your shirt.  It’s no mistake that this technique is called the “Military Tuck” because guys with unique bodies in standard shirts cut for the mythical average still have to look good in their uniforms.  With your pants unbuttoned, push your shirt tails completely down into your pants and fold the excess into two folds at your hips, with the fabric from the front of the shirt pulled over the excess fabric at the back of your shirt. Button your pants up over your tucked and folded shirt, and a belt helps keep everything in place. Smooth the fabric across your waist.
IMG 2652Also $0-No tie and an open collar.  It’s okay for Casual Friday and jet-set playboys, but sometimes you can’t get away with it. Otherwise, I like the coat in your family pic. It fits you well, and the outfit is a classic look and well-assembled. I can’t see your shirt poking out of your coat sleeve. So either it's a short sleeve shirt or you need to pull your sleeves down. This serves the function of keeping your jacket free of oils and dirt.  Coats are much more expensive to launder than shirts and the sleeve of your coat brushing up against your wrist will get dingy quick.

$7-Elastic Garters have a dozen uses and are sold for holding socks up, keeping your pants in your boots, connecting kid’s mittens to their jacket sleeves, heck, even holding sheets on the mattress, but the concept is simple: two clips connected by a length of elastic. Check Amazon for an endless array of sizes and elastic strengths.  Before you put on your shirt, turn it over on the back and pick two points where the billowing gets out of hand and connect them on either side of the center line, say, at the armpits or around your middle. The tension of elastic will pull the excess fabric backward. Experiment with the right placement to find the sweet spot that gives you a shape you need. If you aren't wearing a coat, you can do this on the inside of your shirt if you don’t mind feeling the device against your skin.

$12-Collar Extenders can be used to discreetly give your neck some breathing room in a shirt that is a bit too tight up top.  Keep a pack around at all times. Shop for shirts that fit you better around the torso and relax the collar by adding an inch with this gadget. If you have an 18 ½” shirt around, try it on to see if the girth fits you better and if adding a collar extender makes the difference you need.
jimRemember that for most shirt styles, the top corners of each side of the collar should nearly touch when buttoned up, so use the collar extender with care. As the distance between each side of your shirt collar widens it leaves a gap which, if not filled with a wider tie knot that covers the top of the button strip behind it, starts to look a little sloppy. If it gets too wide, your shirt loses all proportion. A low-hanging thin tie knot that doesn't cover the button strip behind, on a wide collar isn’t a good look; let’s call it the “Boozy Detective.” In your portrait photo, I’d have tied a wider knot, like a Double Windsor, pulled it a little tighter and higher, so it makes the collar stand up and covers the shirt between your collar sides. A thick neck and a wider tie knot are going eat up a lot of the length of your tie so use a pin or a thin hair clip to secure the tail end of your tie, so it doesn’t flop into view.  Extra long ties will also fix this.
$20-Take the shirts you have and talk to a tailor about taking an inch or two out of the sides. Second to getting an entirely tailor-made shirt to your exact specifications, having an existing shirt get the single alteration you need is a good compromise. In the past, when I have lost weight, I’ve done this instead of having to buy a complete wardrobe. I am slowly having this done to my outsized clothing, two pieces at a time, and tuck the ones I haven’t had altered yet.
$50-Before I get to the tailor-made shirt, there is a mid-point which may work depending on your shape-slim cut shirts.  You are unlikely to find slim shirts in regular department stores, but call around to suit shops and high-end retail, slim-cuts use a different proportion to make a shirt with a slimmer girth and wider neck. Because the clientele for such shirts is smaller, shirts like this may cost more, but if it shaves a chunk out of the cost of a custom shirt, it’s worth looking for. You should be able to find slim cut shirts in a 19 ½” neck; I have one. (that doesn’t fit my gut)
$4,000,000- Tailor made shirts. Yeah, I know, but isn’t it worth having a classic white shirt and a cornflower blue shirt that fit you perfectly for special occasions and important meetings? Splurge on one or two and keep them pristine. Check out Indochino for tailor-made shirts starting at $79.
None of these is a fix-all solution but rather all together provide an arsenal that will allow you to make good use of the wardrobe you have now and inform your purchases moving forward.  Not being average can certainly be a challenge, but never let the myth of the average body type confine you to looking less than your best. Good luck and let me know if any of these suggestions help.
Would you like your very own personalized fashion advice like this? Hit me up on Fiverr.
Note: I am not a paid spokesperson for Indochino or any Big & Tall clothing manufacturer, but I'm open to it.