Bethesda entrepreneur seeks office, happy hour, WFH sweet spot with dress collar polos

When he lived in New York, Justin Baer hated wearing dress shirts under a sweater.

“It’s like the go-to look for every single guy that works in an office,” said Baer. “I just found it uncomfortable, I got hot with the long sleeves, and the sleeves with the sweater were always getting bunched up.”

Baer, who now lives with his family in Bethesda, Maryland, knew that polo shirts were too casual for the office, but he had an idea.

“I’m gonna put like a crazy-firm collar on it, so it give you that exact same look of a dress shirt, but it’s just a comfortable polo.”

With his new company, Collars & Co., Baer worked on a prototype for about six months, and did a small run of dress collar polo shirts, with his wife, daughter and him filling orders out of their home.

“That was 18 months ago, now we’ve got four different collar styles, and a bunch of colors,” Baer said.

“Guys are wearing it by itself, as sort of an elevated polo, they’re wearing it under a sweater, and they’re wearing it under a blazer,” said Baer. “It’s like the polo made for a blazer.”

Here’s what a dress collar polo shirt from Bethesda-based Collars & Co. looks like. (Courtesy Collars & Co.)

Baer said the timing was right. “The pandemic has totally, obviously, thrown office wear upside down.”

As some employees return to offices, and others work remotely, Baer thinks the dress collar polo fits with the “new normal.”

“Pleasure and work morphing together. Working at home, it’s like, ‘I’m going to drop my kids off and come back for a meeting, then I gotta go do something and run and grab lunch,'” he said.

Baer said the style gives a wearer flexibility. “In the old days, you’d come home with a suit, you’d take the suit off, and put on a casual outfit.”

Collars & Co. was featured on “Shark Tank.” (Courtesy YouTube/ABC)

The shirts cost about $75 on the Collars & Co. website, which Baer said now includes a women’s line.

Baer got some high-profile financial backing and publicity last week.

On “Shark Tank,” billionaire entrepreneur and investor Mark Cuban and investor Peter Jones reached a $1 million deal with Baer: a $300,000 investment, plus a $700,000 line of credit, in exchange for 10% of Collars & Co.

Interested potential customers in the D.C. area can check out Collars & Co.’s pop-up store at Tysons Galleria in McLean, Virginia, outside Saks Fifth Avenue. The shop opens Nov. 20 and will stay open through the holiday shopping season.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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