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Fused vs. Unfused Collars

Discussion in 'Andy's Fashion Forum' started by zzdocxx, Jun 16, 2012.

  1. zzdocxx

    zzdocxx Honors Member

    United States
    California
    San Diego
    I've seen some discussion about fused vs. unfused shirt collars recently, in the context of MTM shirts.

    So what's it all about?

    Are they better? Why? Or is it purely personal preference? Is it good for some types of shirts but not others? Eg. buttondown collars vs. spread collars?

    Thank you, I await elightenment on this.
     
  2. Alexander Kabbaz

    Alexander Kabbaz Tech and Business Advice Guru

    United States
    New York
    East Hampton
    The Fused versus Traditional Collar:

    a] Style: A properly fused collar is always 'flat'. A traditional collar is, no matter how accomplished the ironer, always a bit 'wavy'. There are those who like to think that the 'wavy' appearance is more traditional. They are entirely correct. A cobblestone street is also more traditional than an asphalt one. Upon which would you rather drive for eight hours? In the arena of styling, therefore, neither fused or traditional methods are 'better'. Preference here is strictly in the eye of the wearer. In my case, I lean towards fused for my dress shirts and traditional for casual or sport shirts.

    b] Construction: Without boring you with hours of technical details, the fused collar is much, much more difficult to properly construct than a traditional one. However, it is easier to improperly construct a fused collar than a traditional one. The reasons for these seeming contradictions are many; understanding can be accomplished only by in-person observation.

    c] A poorly constructed traditional collar will always remain exactly as poorly constructed as it was in the first place.

    d] A poorly constructed fused collar will get worse continuously throughout its life. A few of the major pitfalls include continuous shrinkage, debonding between the shell fabric and interlining resulting in bubbles in the shell fabric, and debonding of multiple inner layers of interlining resulting in non-removable ridges.

    e] The majority of fused collars were, during the 1980's and 1990's, poorly constructed. Though the percentage of more appropriately fused collars seems to be on the increase, there is no way other than reputation to judge fusing quality prior to multiple launderings.

    f] To the skilled maker, there are a myriad of additional styling options and wonderful construction features available only through the use of a fused collar.

    g] A Footnote: Fusing other parts of the shirt is always questionable. The fused component of the collar (the 'leaf') does not touch the skin and is therefore not the part that gets a 'ring around the collar'. The 'ring' affects the non-fused collar band. This is important because soil removal from fused parts is more difficult. For this reason, fusing folding French cuffs is a terrible idea. Fusing is fine for button cuffs as the fused side does not come in contact with the skin. However, button cuffs are commonly used for casual or sport shirts which, in my opinion, are preferably made with the more wavy, loose, traditional methods.

    The Fusing Process:

    Fusing is a process involving the use of high temperature (approximately 155 degrees Centigrade) and high pressure (approximately 35 pounds per square inch) which causes the shell fabric (cotton shirting) to adhere to the interlining. The adhesion is provided by a polyamide adhesive. Polyamide adhesive is a type of plastic. In the actual process the cut collar shaped cloth, interlining, and its coating of adhesive are sandwiched together. They are then heated to the specified temperature. When the specified temperature is achieved, the high pressure is applied uniformly to the three part sandwich for a short period of time which varies from 12 to 18 seconds. The pressure is then removed and the sandwich allowed to cool. The resulting collar exterior is now flat and somewhat "hard". It then returns to the normal shirtmaking processes, is made into a collar, and attached to the shirt as any traditional construction might dictate. The polyamide bond is permanent as long as it is not again heated above 150 degrees Centigrade. In the vast majority of commercial operations, this fusing process is accomplished in a fusing machine which contains a heat tunnel through which passes a conveyor belt. The sandwich is placed on the conveyor belt, proceeds through the heat tunnel, and is then run in-between two high pressure rollers. It then continues out the far side of the machine while cooling. The problem with this process is that plastic or a plastic bond, if in motion while cooling, becomes weak.

    A conveyor belt, due to the nature of its operation, is not a flat path but instead a series of waves caused by the underlying rollers. Thus, when the collar is cooling as it moves out of the tunnel, it is not only in forward motion but also undergoing the bending motion provided by the wave characteristics of the belt's rollers. My determination (back in 1982 as previously detailed) was that I needed a machine which would keep the collar/polyamide/interlining sandwich stationery during the cooling process. If you look carefully at the machine ...


    [​IMG]






    you will see a large aluminum plate suspended from springs. This is the heat surface. The collar sandwich is inserted on a flat metal plate underneath the heat surface where it is then allowed to achieve the necessary temperature. At that time, the 12 ton hydraulic jack you see at the top forces the heat plate down onto the collar sandwich. After the required dwell time, the heating surface raises off of the now fused collar. The metal plate is then withdrawn and its contents allowed to rest motionless until they return to room temperature. Hence, the collar remains perfectly stationary on a stable surface while the bond is drying. This results in the strongest possible bond. Theory is wonderful; product testing reality. Prior to releasing any of the fused collars to my clients, I tested the machine and the resulting products for a period of 18 months. I have one of the original collars I fused back in 1984 on a pink broadcloth shirt. It has been laundered more than 250 times, which is completely unprovable, and I keep it here for all who might be interested in seeing it. The collar began at exactly 16.5 inches in size and is now 16.25 inches in size.

    As examples, here are a few fused collars. Notice the perfectly flat appearance:
    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]






    For comparison ... Left two are fused; right buttondown is not. Note the difference in flatness:


    [​IMG]





    Using fusing, even extraordinarily high collars can remain flat. This collar contains 3 layers of interlining. It is so strong and stiff that it can be detached and used as a weapon like Oddjob's bowler:

    [​IMG]





    Virtually the same collar in pre-fusing days. You can easily see how it is nowhere near as flat:


    [​IMG]






    Here's one of those engineering marvels which could not have been done as nicely before fusing was available ... a rather unique, 3.75" high fused formal "Stock" collar:



    [​IMG]



    Here shown in use by Tom Wolfe:


    [​IMG]



    Copyright © 2006 Alexander Kabbaz/CustomShirt1.com. All rights reserved. Reproduction in any form is prohibited without written permission of the copyright owner.
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2012
  3. Oldsarge

    Oldsarge Moderator and Bon Vivant

    On the banks of the Willamette
    United States
    Oregon
    Oak Grove
    Phew! That is an amazing amount of work and its just for the collar. Well, one gets what one pays for . . . Alex, my hat is off in salute.
     
  4. zzdocxx

    zzdocxx Honors Member

    United States
    California
    San Diego
    So Alex you are also an inventor, necessity is the mother etc. as they say.

    I notice of the three side-by-side pics, the unfused one is on a button down.

    Of my Brooks Brothers shirts, the button downs have a much thinner collar, but I can't say for sure that it isn't fused. It isn't so stiff, that's for sure and it has a bit of a roll to it, very cute! They haven't been washed enough yet to know how they'll hold up.

    Thanks for the elucidation, I appreciate it.

    Trying to figure out how to apply these principles to the various MTM outfits advertising here. It sounds like the big question is, is their collar fusing done properly? And then, does one prefer the fused or not?
     
  5. Alexander Kabbaz

    Alexander Kabbaz Tech and Business Advice Guru

    United States
    New York
    East Hampton
    Ask whether their fusing is "tunnel" (bad) or "clamshell" (good).

    Another factor to consider is the quality of the interlining. Although a polyamide bond can be adhered to any quality of interlining the result will be no better than the substrate. If the interlining is of poor quality it will shrink and weaken whether fused or not. There are some excellent ones made in Germany which would retail for $10-$12/yard. There are others which would retail for under $1.00/yard. However, you probably won't be able to find out what any particular firm uses.
     
  6. zzdocxx

    zzdocxx Honors Member

    United States
    California
    San Diego
    Thanks Alex, I will indeed ask about it.
     
  7. Alexander Kabbaz

    Alexander Kabbaz Tech and Business Advice Guru

    United States
    New York
    East Hampton
    Please post if you get any answers. Very interested to know details.
     
  8. Flanderian

    Flanderian Connoisseur

    United States
    New Jersey
    Flanders
    Alex, thank you for your magnum opus on collar fusing. It is quite an education. :icon_hailthee: It is always best to get information straight from the horse's mouth, rather than from the other end.

    Some of the latter: My own small experience when I still had (AKA, could afford) the services of a shirtmaker was that I never had a problem with the fused collars he made, either in terms of appearance or laundering. In fact, I preferred an edge stitched fused collar for all collar styles, except the button down. To me, the button-down fused collars just never did look right.
     
  9. CuffDaddy

    CuffDaddy Connoisseur

    Brilliance, Alex.

    If one eschews fusings in french cuffs, how does one avoid the floppy/crumply problem that some of my non-fused cuffs have? Is it simply a question of a sufficiently heavy interlining?
     
  10. Alexander Kabbaz

    Alexander Kabbaz Tech and Business Advice Guru

    United States
    New York
    East Hampton
    I agree. Given the popularization of the button-down by the extremely intelligent and equally frumpy William Buckley, a perfectly flat button-down is a contradiction in terms.

    Interestingly, the first person to tell me this was Buckley himself. My first shirt shop was in the middle of nowhere; the only store on NYC's 35th Street at the always smoggy entrance to the Midtown Tunnel. National Review's office was in the next block. Innocent young shirt maker that I was I decided to give it a go. Well ... promising to make him a flatter, neater button-down collar crowning a shirt which actually fit properly was not the way to go!



    Counselor: Having been all-too-recently chastised by lalaland for my use of gutter language, I made a personal vow not to use the words "cheap" or "crap" in answering your question.

    The answer varies:

    Some shirt makers go by the philosophy that, because the French cuff folds and therefore the interlining is effectively doubled, a less costly, less durable, less substantial, less dimensionally stable, easier to cut, easier to sew, easier to iron interlining will suffice.

    Other shirt makers go by the philosophy that, because the French cuff is bulky and not very visible because it is under the jacket, a less costly, less durable, less substantial, less dimensionally stable, easier to cut, easier to sew, easier to iron interlining will suffice.

    Yet other shirt makers go by the philosophy that, because the client wants to pay as little as possible and the shirt maker wants to make as much profit as possible, a less costly, less durable, less substantial, less dimensionally stable, easier to cut, easier to sew, easier to iron interlining will suffice.

    All three philosophies yield the same result: Flop & Crumple.

    A very few shirt makers use a substantial, stiff, expensive German interlining at 8-12 time the cost of the previously discussed interlining. Regretfully, it neither flops nor crumples.
     

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