Collecting vintage clothing can be an expensive habit, and storing, restoring and moving a collection of vintage clothing can take an inordinate amount of space, time and cash. However, there is one type of antique clothing that still takes only about a dollar or two to buy, rarely is in need of conservation work, and can be safely stored in a cookie tin. I refer of course to the detachable “hard” collars mass produced in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries.
The detachable collar was first invented in 1827 at #139 3rd Street, Troy, NY, by Mrs. Hannah Lord Montague (1794-1878), a housewife who was having difficulties with her husband’s “ring-around-the-collar.” Her husband, Orlando Montague, showed-off his wife’s invention to the guys around town, and soon all the wives of Troy embraced this new invention. Soon after, merchants followed suit, and manufactured collars in mass quantities for sale to the outside world.
Woodsheds, garrets and store fronts became collar making places as teachers, farmers, carpenters, butchers and ironmongers were drawn to this new trade by its apparent simplicity: a table, a pair of scissors, a bolt of cloth and a spool of cotton was all that was necessary.
Two views of an early seperate collar (probably c.1850), with the closure in the back. This collar, although machine sewn, is only two thin layers of lawn, and could not have have held enough starch to be as stiff as late 19th & Early 20th Century models.
Troy, New York, became “Collar City” to the rest of America, and went from a sleepy little upstate town to the center of American shirt and collar manufacturing.
By 1897, twenty-five manufacturers in Troy were producing a total of eight million dozen collars and cuffs a year. Linen collars were offered in a breathtaking variety of styles and had become the status-symbol of the growing office-worker class (ie. “white collar” workers). Mail order catalogs like Sears-Roebuck, Montgomery-Ward, and Bloomingdale’s sent detachable collars to every part of America, along with the often colorful collarless shirts with which they were worn. By the Turn-of-the-Century, nearly every man in America had his neck in the vise-like grip of a iron-hard starched linen detachable collar.
Turn-of-the-Century collars can be found in a large number of variants on the basic styles of poke, wing, spread, and turndown (aka fold) collars. The most popular style of collar in 1900 was the “high-band” collar a turndown collar with a height of from 2 to 3 inches that encased the whole neck in a smooth glossy cylinder of starched linen. Uncomfortable as these are (turning the head suddenly causes bruises in the bottom of the jaw), they look marvelous, and they made up over 60% of the collar trade in the summer of 1900. The Haberdasher in August 1900 noted that perfect rigidity could be maintained in a “highband” collar with a “lock-front”:
The lock-front collars, which were introduced by Earl and Wilson, continue to be the prevailing favorites. This lock-front band insures a fold collar that will sit precisely as it was designed to sit. There are no sagging points, or crooked over-lapping bands in the “E.& W.” fold collars.
Two photos of “Meyrick” a collar by Cluett, Peabody & Co., the Troy manufacturer of “Arrow” shirts. The view on the left shows the lock front in focus, the view at right shows the rear hole, manufacturers markings, and old laundry marks.
All detachable collars are held in place by removable metal collar buttons which come in front (long with a beadlike end) and back (short with a flat end) varieties.
There is a distinct change of style in colored shirts. Instead of the exceedingly loud combination of colors which have, it seems, had their run, the desirable and correct thing will be white ground, with medium figures of black, blue, heliotrope and some Hunter’s green, and stripes of similar colors, also on white ground. The figures will be largely on the geometrical order, diamonds, single, double, and even in clusters…two and three colored clustered figures and stripes are produced with fine effect. Spots will not be popular only as an exception.
Colored, patterned, and striped shirts were so popular that smart New York dressers wore them with frock coats to the Horse Show, an event noted in the 1900’s for it’s sartorial splendor. The most popular colors in men’s striped and patterned shirts in 1900 were light and dark blue, oxblood red, heliotrope (blue-purple), pink, and Hunter’s green, a kind of olive color. However, color advertisements in Men’s Wear and other magazines of the time also show figured shirts in red, peach, aqua, black, lilac, and in combinations of black and rose, red, blue and black, red and blue, light and dark blue, red and pink, and pink and black.
In 1901 wing and poke collars became more popular, especially for evening wear. White shirts also gained in popularity, although colored and patterned shirts were still seen everywhere. 1902 saw the introduction of brown and sage-green to the repertoire of shirt colors, and Men’s Wear reported that dark background colors were proving popular among patterned shirts for Fall. Someone also introduced a fold collar in 1902 with a slight spread, but this was denounced as dubious taste by people of high class, for whom spread collars signified laborers. For example, The Haberdasher suggested appropriate collars and shirts for different social occasions in their “Correct Dress Chart” for 1903: For formal evening functions (ladies present) the appropriate collars were “straight stander just meeting, lap front or poke” worn with a white shirt with a linen or pique boiled front and tails. Evening stag parties required a wing or fold collar and a plain or pleated white shirt and Tux. Business dress required a poke, wing or fold collar and a white or colored shirt, worn either with a cutaway or sack suit. Sportswear included a Norfolk jacket or a sack suit worn with a flannel or Madras shirt and a fold or wing collar. Sunday church-going demanded a frock or cutaway coat with a white shirt and a wing, poke or fold collar. Nowhere does the chart consider spread collars appropriate.
Woman’s Collar Box and hard collars
Click here to see more images of women’s collars.
Women who wore “man-tailored” suits and shirtwaists also wore hard collars and neckties. A wonderful ad for Cutter and Crossette neckwear in 1902 shows a modern couple in shirts, fold collars and neckties showing each other (in intimate proximity) their identical tie company labels as “his” arm steals around “her” shoulder. She wears a red spotted black tie with a white shirtwaist, and he wears a red tie with white figures with a bold red and white striped shirt. Both wear very high white fold collars with sharp corners. One of the satisfying things for women about collecting hard collars is that since most of them were made for men they survive in sizes that fit a normal, modern woman’s neck. This makes them a perfect item for women who don’t fit into the frequently tiny sizes of antique women’s dresses. A modern copy of a shirtwaist is immeasurably dressed-up with the addition of a hard collar and tie. Men, of course, will have a harder time finding real period examples that fit.
However, there are several modern sources for the kinds of collars and shirts worn in the 1900’s. Amazon Vinegar and Pickling Works Drygoods sells neckband shirts in white and colored stripes for $45-50, and “linene” (cotton bonded to card stock) and “linex” (linen textured cardstock) collars in an assortment of styles from the 19th and 20th centuries for $45 per 25. They also carry metal collar buttons (used to attach the collar to the shirt) and cufflinks. The Gibson-Lee collar company has been making cardstock collars since the 1900’s and continues to sell collars and shirts, mostly to theatre companies.
Paper and celluloid collars: Top-a pressed paper collar from the Turn-ofthe-Century , so flimsy it’s amazing it ever survived. Lower Right-a modern sturdy “Linene” collar from Gibson. Lower Left-celluloid collar from the Turn-ofthe-Century.
Gibson has a “starter set” that includes a white or striped shirt and 10 assorted style collars to fit it for around $65. Those who sew can make a shirt using the Folkwear #202 Victorian Shirt pattern which has a bib front. It was popular during the first few years of this century to do the bib and cuffs in one pattern, and the center front placket and rest of the shirt in another pattern using the same color. These were considered “swell” items sold by better haberdashers to clients who took a real interest in dressing in the height of fashion. Hard collars continued to be popular through WW I, and even after, but the comfortable soft collared shirts worn in the trenches permanently impressed their wearers, so through the Twenties the public slowly learned to love spread collars, and discarded the iron-hard poke and highband fold one by one. By the 1930’s the hard collar was only the preserve of older men and conservative dressers, except for the wing collar for formal and evening wear.
1 James Morske, “And It All Began With One Woman” in THE ARROW MAN: Collar City Chic (Troy: New York State Council on the Arts, 1987) 5.
2 “Collar & Cuff Chat” in The Haberdasher v.32 #2 Aug 1900, 59.
3 Strathmore, The New York Men’s Furnishers” in Men’s Wear v.10 #1 11 Jly 1900, 28.
4 “Correct Day Dress Chart” and “Correct Evening Dress Chart” in The Haberdasher v.37 #1, 1 Jan 1903, 40-41.