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Q Your recent button-down collar shirt column was a lovely piece for a boy from Little Rock who arrived at Yale without having seen a "button down" but adjusted as soon as his budget allowed and got a white one from J. Press. After I moved back South, I shifted to the modernized "point collar" dress shirt. BUT, these had to be heavily starched, in large part to keep the collars from flapping up. When the collars were re-engineered with a slot in the back of each side for a "stay," the problem was solved! But the stays get lost when you leave them in for the laundry to wash. They're hard to replace; few men's stores have extras on hand. Then you lose them again. ... Few men's fashion "solutions" are perfect. "So it goes" as Vonnegut reminds us.

A The truth is that shirt collar stays are not really so hard to replace, although I, too, remember when men's stores used to hand out extras just for the asking. This is no longer the case.

For those not familiar with shirt collar stays, they are small, flat, rigid slabs, usually plastic, that slide into special stitched slots on the underside of a shirt collar's points to keep the points down/flat and in place. While the stays are usually made of plastic, some of the finer (more expensive) ones are made of metal. Most better dress shirts with straight point collars are designed with these slots; they come with one plastic stay in each slot. The purpose is to keep the shirt collar crisp by adding weight to an otherwise light and flexible piece of fabric.

Regarding losing those stays, although I hate to sound like "Mother," I will remind you that it is the wearer's responsibility to remember to remove the stays from his shirt before laundering it or before sending it to the laundry. If you forget and don't remove the stays, they can get bent or broken in the washer. Even worse, if they come through the laundry process intact, they can melt during the ironing process and damage the shirt's fabric. The result is a mess.

All of that said, most men will find a time when they need extras. There is a wide variety of collar stays on the market. They come in different lengths, widths and materials. Choosing the right one depends on the shape and length of the slot in the dress shirt collar. Collars vary dramatically and if your stays are significantly too long or too short you may want to double-check that your shirt is not so old that the collar is out of style. Current collar lengths are about 3 inches and work with 2.5- or 2.75-inch stays.

Collar stays are available in various materials, including plastic, stainless steel, brass, silver and even gold. Plastic is the most common material used to make stays. Inexpensive and totally effective, plastic collar stays are the go-to collar stays that most dress shirt manufacturers use. Stainless steel is the most popular metal for collar stays. Heavy and stiff, they will keep your dress shirt collar looking correctly smooth and flat. The material you choose for your collar stays is purely a matter of your preference. They all work. Googling "men's shirt collar stays," will provide a wide variety of choices, plastic to metal, in assorted sizes, ranging from $5 to $15 for plastic and more for metal. Also, most men's stores stock sets that you can buy.

In a pinch, collar stays can be made from just about anything. If you realize you left yours at home and need something to stiffen your collar points before an important meeting, consider making a pair that you cut from a plastic credit card. Even a paper clip will slide into the slot to work temporarily and effectively.

A few notes of caution:

• Less common than their slide-in counterparts, are magnetic collar stays. They use small powerful magnets to keep the collar in place. I do not recommend them because they add another super-small item to handle and position, one that is far too easy to lose.

• Collars stays are either removable or sewn-in. Sewn-in collar stays are almost always made from thin plastic. I strongly urge you to avoid shirts with sewn-in stays. They can leave an impression in the collar points from ironing.

• Some manufacturers of metal stays offer engraving of a man's name or initials. Spending the money for an unseen monogram seems about as frivolous an expense as one can have ... unless, you are back at Yale and afraid your roommates are going to steal them.

Simply put, collar stays are a small detail that make your dress shirt collar points look crisp. Since a man's shirt collar frames his face and becomes a focal point, it makes sense to be sure your collars always look great.

Please send your men's dress and grooming questions to MALE CALL:

Lois.Fenton@prodigy.net

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