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.
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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.