Humble yet elegant, a mandarin collar suit is the perfect choice if you’d like to stand out in a subtle way. This simple, round style of collar is quite literally timeless - the style dates back to 220BC! It has made its mark around the world and is still a men’s fashion staple. Join the rankings of nobility and find out why the mandarin collar suit is worth the hype the next time you have a special occasion.
How and When to Wear a Mandarin Collar Suit
What Is A Mandarin Collar Suit?
This type of suit is distinguished by its stiff, rounded collar in place of a lapel. It is quite short - only a few centimetres tall, standing straight and unfolded. The collar curves gracefully around the neck and gently meets at the centre, where it might slightly overlap. A mandarin collar works for jackets and shirts. Because it has been around for so long, the mandarin collar goes by several other names: nehru collar, mao collar (after Mao Zedong), jawahar collar, and grandad collar.
The Mandarin collar suit is one of the oldest types of suits. It was originally worn by noblemen in Imperial China, and has always remained part of the national style. Eventually the style started spreading around the world. It has been popular in India since the 10th century, also starting with aristocratic wearers. In India nehru collar is the most popular name for this style, named after India’s first prime minister who loved wearing clothing with this collar. Uncoincidentally, a lot of Chinese and Indian traditional clothing contain these types of collars.
Despite its eastern origins, the mandarin collar also has a firm place in the western world. Europeans have been incorporating the collar into their military clothes for centuries, so of course it also trickled over to America. Prince William even wore a mandarin collar military suit at his wedding! The mandarin collar is also a staple part of Christian clerical clothing, as you can typically see priests and clergymen wearing them. But don’t think that mandarin collar suits are strictly reserved for nobility and men in uniform. Rock legends like The Beatles and The Monkees made mandarin collar suits a mod staple during the 60s, and Sean Connery wore one as James Bond in Dr. No. As you can see, the mandarin collar is a world-renowned design that works on a wide array of clothing.
When Can I Wear A Mandarin Collar Suit?
You can wear a mandarin collar suit at any occasion a suit is required! Think of it as a more minimalist approach to traditional suiting (although really, it’s just an eastern tradition rather than a western one). That means you can wear a mandarin collar suit to formal events like weddings, galas, dinners, and ceremonies. The only time you shouldn’t wear a mandarin collar suit is to a black-tie event where you are specifically required to wear a tuxedo, but feel free to wear one to a black-tie optional event. It isn’t very common to wear a full mandarin collar suit to work, but you can definitely incorporate a jacket into your work wardrobe, or easily adopt the spirit with a mandarin collar shirt.
The mandarin collar suit still remains more popular in Asian countries, despite its big role in western military uniforms. It looks quite unique when worn in North America and Europe. Choose a mandarin collar style suit for whenever you want to be a bit different from the crowd.
How To Style A Mandarin Collar Suit
Wearing a mandarin collar suit is a bit different to wearing a suit with a lapel. Remember, the look is sleeker and more minimal so you won’t be needing any flashy accessories (though you can wear a simple, solid colored pocket square if you wish). Even though mandarin collars have been around since ancient times, mandarin collar suits tend to have more of a futuristic and modern feel so keep that in mind while getting dressed.
As A Three-Piece Suit
Add a western touch to your mandarin collar suit by adding a waistcoat. It’s a fresh twist on the classic three-piece suit that you can wear to weddings or other cocktail or black-tie optional events. Mandarin collar jackets tend to be quite narrow, so a single-breasted waistcoat will probably look best (as it will peek out from beneath your jacket). But if your jacket is open enough, feel free to wear a double-breasted waistcoat.
As A Two-Piece Suit
This is the traditional way to wear a mandarin collar suit. Button up the jacket to embrace the sleek and clean design of the suit. A light colored or checked version will make the suit feel more fresh and modern. If you prefer or need a darker color because of a dress code, try brightening up the look with a colorful pocket square (but make sure it’s solid). For example, a navy suit with a red pocket square. You can wear this type of suit to many different formal events.
If you decide to unbutton the jacket, it creates more of a casual feel. You might not be able to get away with wearing this at a very formal event, but it’s a look you can try at work. If your dress code isn’t terribly strict, try wearing your unbuttoned mandarin collar suit with a sweater underneath for a refreshingly modern take on the suit. This could also serve a cool date night look.
Mix & Match
Freshen up your daily looks with a mandarin collar jacket, but let it be the statement piece that it is. You can wear it to work or use it to add a touch of elegance to a smart-casual look for a family lunch or a date. Pair the jacket with slacks or chinos for work (depending on your dress code). Leave the jacket buttoned for the ultimate fashion statement, or wear it with a stark white button up. For a more casual look, wear it with chinos or even dark-wash jeans. You can wear a casual shirt or a simple sweater/t-shirt underneath. Stick to smart shoes like oxfords or loafers to keep the look refined.
- Make sure your suit is well-fitted. Mandarin collar suits tend to have a very slim fit - they used to be worn under gowns in China and baggy trousers in India, so the jackets had to be fitted to balance this out. You want the suit to be comfortable enough to move around in, but make sure there is no awkward gaping anywhere. As with any other suit, the sleeves should be able to cover your wrists and the shoulder seam should be in line with your actual shoulders.
- Be mindful of the shirt you choose to wear. You can wear a mandarin collar shirt to match, but don’t wear a tie if you do. Mandarin collar shirts are specifically designed to be worn without a tie so it’s a big fashion no-no to wear any kind of tie with a mandarin collar shirt. If you choose to wear a fold-down collar shirt, feel free to wear a tie.
- As for shoes, stick to classy dress shoes or loafers. Heavy shoes like boots add unnecessary bulk to the minimalist style of the suit.
Dare to be different with a mandarin collar suit! You’ll definitely be wearing an outfit to be remembered.