A tab collar is a classic collar design made to showcase the tie know better than a regular shirt design. This type of construction has been around for very long, it goes back to the origins of the classic dress shirt when collars themselves were removable.
Shirts featuring tabbed collars are not extremely common, and while you may stumble upon one every now and again, they are not something the majority of men are even aware of. Basically, a tabbed collar is a collar that features an additional strip of fabric with a press stud. This way, the wings of the collar are held together under the tie knot. The purpose of this construction is to showcase the tie knot better, which means that a shirt featuring it should always be worn with a tie. Otherwise, it doesn’t make much sense.
The tab collar keeps the tie knot tight against the collar and pushes the bottom part of the knot away from the wearer’s neck, thus creating a nice roll at the top of the tie blades.
These are small details, but they can make a big difference, especially when analyzed up close. In this sense, while you may not wear a shirt featuring such a collar every day, you can have one that you wear on special occasions or when needing things like passport or résumé photos, where you want to look sharp.
As extra information about tab colors, you should know that these usually come on point collar shirts. The narrow area between the collar points implies that the tab will be entirely hidden by the tie. Otherwise, if you had a wider collar spread (like a spread collar or a cutaway collar for example), some parts of the tab would still be visible, which would look a little sloppy.
Moreover, the tab, because of its draw, makes the spread on a point collar shirt quite small, which means that it is best to be worn with a narrower tie and a rather narrow knot, such as the four-in-hand. Surely, the width of your tie should be proportional to your body (thinner men look best in thin ties, and bigger men look good in wider ties), but you can always find a happy middle ground.
As a short but important note, you should keep in mind that “collar tabs” is also a synonym for “collar stays”, which are small, flat, strong pieces that are inserted in the special pockets on the underside of dress shirt collars. These are meant to make you look crisp by keeping the collared shirt in place and pressed. The linguistic similarity between “collar tabs” and “tab collar” may cause confusion, which is why we often use “collar stays” instead of “tabs” when referring to these small accessories.
A tab collar is a small fashion detail that can make a difference in the way you look. Even though you may not wear one every day or find it uncomfortable, you can have a shirt featuring a tab collar for occasional special meetings or presentations, when you want to make a great impression and know all eyes will be on you.