Collars on Boys' Shirts: Styles

Boys' fashions have included a wide variety of collar styles. The collar was one one of the most important features of boyhood clothes. It was use as an age differentiation accessory. A boy might wear a ruffled collar and large bow with a suit, but then to show his growing maturioy wear the same suit with an Eton cvollar. It is now much less common. Important collar styles have included: buttoned down, Eton, lace, Peter Pan, Pilgrim, ruffled, sailor and many others. Many of these styles have persisted for long periods. Some have evolved from military styles. Some have been worn by girls and women, while others have evolved from men's styles. Some have been first worn by boys and then appropriated for girls' wear. Some of these collars, especially Etons were detachable collars, others always worn as an integral part of a shirt or blouse. Some collars we have noted in the photographic record, but do not yet know the proper name to describe them. We are just beginning to collect the foreign language names for these various collars.

Button-down Collars

One style of soft collar is the button-down collar. The button-down has small buttons at the tips of the points. Few boys and men currently wearing button-down collars are aware of its historical origins. And we are not entirely sure ourselves. We know that the origin is English even though that button-downs are not commpnly worn there. The button-down collar was apparently developed by English polo players in order to prevent flapping during a match). Polo players at first wore formal cotton dress shirts, but had the collars buttoned down to stop them flapping about during the game which was distracting to the players. We are not sure when this occurred. We note button down collars being worn at English public schools. The earliest image we have is a Harrow boy, we think in the 1880s. We assume that the public schools adopted it from polo players, although I do not know for sure that it did not orihinate in thevpublic schools. We also notce early English Boy Scout uniforms with button-down collars. The modern button-down collar is an American adaptation. It was introduced to America by John Brooks in 1900 after he had discovered it being worn by English polo players. With the influence of Brooks Brothers, the button-down became much more popular in America than it ever was in England. The button-down collar is today a staple of American boy's wear, but much less common in Britain or the continent. It is a characterictic collar style of the "prepy" looked first popularized in the 1950s. A reader asks, "Has anyone told why boys' button down shirts in the 1960s (and maybe later) often had a thin horizontal strip of cloth on the back a few inches down that was sewed on only on the 2 ends of the strip? The strip was about 1 1/2 inches long. Boys found it dorky and would get someone to rip it off of the shirt the first time they wore it." I noticed the little strip, but had no idea what it was for. I kind of guessed it was to hold the shirt on a hook.

Chinese Collar

I remember a shirt style that was briefly popular in the late 1950s called at the time a "Chinese collar". I'm not positive that this was the name for it. The shirt has only two buttons, one on either side of the collar. The opening for the head goes horizontally across the front. I remember seeing a few boys wearing it t the time, but didn't like it myself. You can see these shirts in schools photographs at the time. I'm not sure if it was worn in primary school. I was in highschool at the time.

English Spread Collars

The English spead collar was a primarily adult style. It his was specifically designed to accomodate the broad Windsor knotted tie. Its more formal version, the Cutaway, is usually worn white, starched and high on the neck.


Figure 1.--The Eton collar was once though of as esential for a well dresses boy and was required at many schools. It largely disappeared during the 1930s, but is still worn by some English boy choirs.

Eton Collars

Eton collars were large stiff white collars worn by the students at Eton school. Given the prestige of Eton, the fashion of Eton suits became widely worn both in England and America during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Eton suits were worn by the junior boys at the school. They had short jackets were worn with the stiff Eton collars. They certainly looked uncomfortable, but many at the time did not believe a boy to be well dressed without a Eton collar. Eton collars proved so popular that they were used with many garments besides school uniforms. Little boys wore them with dresses and kilts. Older boys wore them with suits--especially Norfolk suits. Boys wore a varitiy of ties and bows with their Eton collars. Younger boys may have worn large floppy bows. Older boy might have worn a type of bow tie or a necktie with a large knot and small vertical fall. Some Eton collars were worn with no bow or tie.


Figure 2.--Note the elaborate lace collar. This little boy in the 1890s also sported beautifully done sausage curls. How his mother must have suffered when they were cut.

Lace Collars

Both men and boys wore lace collars during the Stuart period . The style was strongly influenced all over Europe by the court of the famed Sun King (Louis XIV) who dominated Europe throughout the 17th cebtury. Lace in this era was part of a well-dresses gentleman's wardrobe and was just as popular if not more popular for mens' clothes than women's clothes. A later reincanation ocurred in the 1880s, especially in America, with the publication of Little Lord Fauntleroy. Fauntleroy suits, the fashion of velvet knee pants suits, worn with long curls, and lace collars plagued American boys for several decades. A great variety of laces and styles were used with the fancy blouses worn as an integral part of the Fauntleroy suit. Blouses were made with fance collars and cuffs, but sometimes lace collars were sewn onto the velvet suit itself. Many boys during the 1880s and 1890s wore lace collars with their party suit. In some cases it was worn with kilt or even dress outfits for the younger boys. It was probably the most hated boyhood fashion (at least by the boys) of all time. The lace collar itself was often one of the features of the Fauntleroy suit most disliked by the boys. There is an interesting little scene in Walt Disney's much over-looked film, Song of the South, dealing with the boy's distaste for the lace collar his mother insists that he wear. While the velvet Dauntleroy suit and lace collar may have been more popular in America thab Europe, lace trimmed boys' clothes were probably more common in France and Italy then elsewhere in Europe. Lace trimmed clothes were not nearly as popular in Germany.


Figure 3.--Formal velvet Eton suits were often worn with Peter Pan collars. White kneesocks often were often also worn.

Peter Pan Collars

Peter Pan collars are more associated with girls. Younger boys dressed in shortalls or Eton suits for formal occasions commonly wore Peter Pan collars beginning I think in the 1940s. Formal velvet Eton suits were especially likely to be worn with Peter Pan collars. The fashion passed out of style for all but the youngest boys after the 1970s. I'm not sure as to how this style developed, but would be interested in any insights visitors to this web site might have.

Pilgram Collars

Large white collars worn by the Pilgrams during the Colonial period appear to have been worn by both men and boys. These large collars declined in popularity in the 18th century. Large white collars were not commonly worn again until after the American Civil War (1861-65). The Pilgrim collar may well have been the inspiration for the Eton collar.

Rounded or Club Collars

We have noted men wearing a rounded or clib collar. We have noted this style in both the 1920s and 80s. This disffered from the Peter Pan collar wiorn by boys in thatit was a much smaller width. One company marketing shirts suggests that this collar is associated with Eton schoolboys. HBC believes that it is far more similar to a Peter Pan collar. We suspect that companies marketing shirts are reluctant to desribe a shirt to be sold to men as related to the Peter Pan collar which was a style for younger boys and now girls. Thus for marketing reasons they describe it as related to the Eton collar which was a boys' style. A shirt compamy suggests, "For a dressy look wear it firm. With a sports jacket wear it soft. It can be pinned or unpinned."

Rounded Collars

HBC is not positive at this time as to the proper name of this collar. It was rounded like a Peter Pan collar, but much smaller. It was worn by older boys and men around the turn of the century and the 1910s, but was lottle seen after the early 1920s. While older boys wore this style, it was not uncommon to see boys still in knickers wearing it. This rounded collar was not worn with floppy bows as it was a style for older boys, but it was worn with a tie.

Ruffled Collars

Ruffled collars were widely used for boys in Regency fashions during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The most common style using ruffled collasrs were: skeleton suits, tunics, and smocks. Often the style was comfortable open collars, well suited for children. As young boys and girls in the 19th century were often dressed alike in dresses, the collar was sometimes used to diferentiate boys from girls. Often the girls neckline might be cut lower while boys might have higher even though fancy collars. There were no definite rules on such matters, however, and mostly it was up to the fancy of the mothers.


Figure 4.--Middy blouses with sailor collars were one of the most enduring of all boys' fashions. They are still worn by the famed Vienna Boys' Choir.

Sailor Collars

Middly blouses and sailor suits with destinctive sailor collars for boys first appeared in England during the 18th century. They became very popular for boys in England after Nelson's great victories over the French and especially when Queen Victoria began dressing her children in them during the mid-19th Century. The fashion soon spread to America and Europe. The collar was cut in a "v" in front and a wide rectangle in back. Proper sailor collars came in blue for winter wear or white for summer wear and had three white stripes for Nelson's three great victories. It was often worn with a bow in front. The middy blouse and sailor suit was one of the most popular styles of all time for boys. Sailor suits came in many different styles and were worn with skirts/kilts and knee, short, and long pants. The salor collar went out of style for older boys in England aad America after the First World War, but was commonly worn bu smaller boys. The style remained popular on the Continent during the 1920s and 1930s, even for older boys. While little worn by boys of any age today, they are used by sone choir groups or at formal weddings. They are still worn by girls and are standard school uniform wear for Japanese and Korean school girls.

Scalloped Collars

We note boys wearing scalloped collars in the 19th and early 20th century. Younger boys for formal occassions wore them even into the mid-20th century. A scalloped collar was one edged with a variety of curved projections. They were done in a wide range of styles. We note very small scalloped collars in the mid-19th century. Sone were a little larger. A good examole is an unidentified New York boy about 1850. We notice larger collars in the late 19th century. Most were white.

Schiller Collar

The Schiller Collar was a term not commonly used in English. Rather it is a translation of the German term Schillerkragen. One source indicates, "And for the past century or so, the Schillerkragen--"Schiller's collar"--has been Germany's equivalent of the "Byron collar." Both poets translated their love of freedom into an open collar-the original sports shirt." Here we are a little confused. Byron and Schiller were contemporaries. Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805) and Byron were contempraries and both were important romantic poets. The open collar style for which they were noted was popular in the early 19th century.It was, however, little seen again until after the 20th century. We note some German boys wearing them in the 1910s, but especially after World War I in the 1920s. It was also worn in other countries. In America it was known as a sports collar. We do not know who first revived the style.

Small Collars

We note boys wearing very small collars during the mid-19th century. Some were so small that they were virtually unobservavle over the jackets. Others or a little larger and can better be made out. Many period portraits clearly show boys wearing small white collars. A good example is an unidentified American boy about 1850. It is often not possible, however to tell the type of collar. They were done in various styles. We see both pointed and rounded collars as well as ruffled collars. They stand in sharp contrast to the large collars worn in the late-19th century. Boys did not often wear bows with these small collars. A good example is a unidentified American boy wearing a ruffled collar, we think in the 1840s Another example is Elisha Dickerman, an American boy about 1850 wears a pointed collar. We also see the Wallis brothers wearing pointed collars in 1852.

Smocked Collars

Some boys were dressed in smocked collars for formal occasions such as weddings, often serving as ring bearers at weddings. Smocked collars are large, usually white collars with elaborate embroidery work. The pictures I have seen have been from weddings beginning about the 1950s.

Soft Collars

The standard soft collars generally worn by boys today became accepted in the 1920s, replacing the Eton collars commonly worn at the beginning of the century. Over time there have been many inovations worn by both men and boys, such as tabs, pins, and the most enduring, button downs. Some shirt inovations for men have not carried over to boys' shirts collars. The British fasgion of white collars on colored stripped shirts is little seen on boys' shirts. Incidentally one of the most influential taylor is Thomas Pink of London and probably the origin of the English phrase "in the pink". The company now has a wide range of colors available, but most boys' dress shirts are still white or since the 1950s, blue. School boys in England, however, often continue to wear gray shirts for everyday wear.

Sports Collar

I'm unsure about the origins of this collar. We seem to have noticed it in America after World war I in the early 1920s. It may hav appeared in Germany even earlier. It appears to have been another example of the increasing informality following the War. The wide open collars styled some-what like a sailor collar were known as sports collars in the United States. They were also widely worn in Europe, although I'm less sure what they wre called in other countries. A German reader tells us that they were known as Shiller collars. She writes, "The "Schillerkragen" (Schiller collar) is connected to the famous composer. I can't really explain why but it is somehow connected to a wish for freedom. It seems at first the collar was popular with the Wandervogel movement but later became part of children fashion in general. In the mid 1920s my grandfather wore such a collar at the age about 10. Here in Germany we have three very famous boys choir and one of the still wears today a Schiller collar. It's the "Dresdner Kreuzchor".

Tab Collars

The tab collar is not a style that is normally associated with boys' wear. It was a popuar style for teens and adults in the 1970s. The tab collar os often regarded as an American, Ivy League style. Actually it was first worn by the Duke of Windsor on a visit to the United States. Apparently it made a big impression.

Turtlenecks

While not precisely a collar, turtle necks are worn instead of collared shirts. This style appears o have been popular among fishermen in the 19th century. Older school boys can be seen in turtle necks by the 1890s. Before the turn of the century men began to wear it in outdoors and sporting pursuits, becoming fashionably worn with teeed jackets. I have not noted turtle necks as boys' wear until about the 1960s. It is quite a flexible style. It can be worn as part of casual clothes, usually during the winter. It also can be worn for informal occasions with a sports jacket or blazer instead of a shirt and tie. Schools sometimes employ turtle necks as part of a uniform.

Wide White Collars

Boys in the early 20th century wore tunics of various design with large white collars. Some wore rounded Peter Pan collars. Other boys wore stiff Eton collars. Other collars are more difficult to identify. Some appeared without the rounded Peter Pan shape or the siffness of the pounted Eton collar. This style seems most common from abourt 1900 to 1920. HBC has noted this style in America, but is unsure how common it was in other countries. Boys wore this style from about 3 to 8 years of age.

Wing Collars

We have noted older boys and men wearing wing collars. We do not know a great deal about this style. It was not a style commonly worn by boys, but we do notice some boys wearing them in the late 19th century and very early 20th century. We do not see many boys wearing them as it was an adult style. Many parents at the time preferred more juvenile stykles for children. The boys wearing these colklars were teenagers of varying ages. A wing or wingtip collar is a mall standing collar with the points stiffly starched and pressed to stick out horizontally, resembling "wings". It was commonly worn with men's evening dress, both white tie or black tie. But we notice them being worn by boys for less formal occassions. The wing collar was a descendant of Gladstone collar which was used by barristers (lawyers) in the United Kingdom and Canada.

Other Collars

Besides these major types of collars worn by boys, there were many other styles that never proved as popular. Mothers and fashion designers could be quite inovative with collars. You probably have never heard of a polkadot collar, but some poor boys wore them.








HBC





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Created: May 25, 1998
Last updated: 3:06 AM 8/17/2012