Eton Collars


Figure 1.--This American boy was photographed in Aubuyn, New York, probably in the 1890s. He wears a bow with his Norfolk suit and Eton collar. I think this was mostly for the younger boys wearing Eton suits. The bow was less common in England. Note the design on the cuff of his kneesocks.

Boys over the ages have worn a variety of shirt collars, one of the most common style in the late 19th and early 20th century was the Eton collar. For decades, an Eton collar 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. The Eton collar proved much more common than the actual Eton suit. For many families the Eton collar was considere essential for a well dressed boy. They were widely worn by British school boys. They were also common in America, but the popularity varied from country to country on the Continent.

Origins

I do not have details yet on the origins of the Eton collar. Presumably it originated as part of the suits were worn by the junior boys at famed Eton school. Eton of course was a public school, meaning of course a private school. The boys had short jackets were worn with the stiff Eton collars. Boys at the school were wearing these jackets in the early 19th Century. Whether the Eton collar was part of the jacket at that early period, I am not yet sure. The style was grdually adopted by other English public schools.

Terminology

The Eton collar is strongly associated with England, yet it was worn bu boys in many different countries. Thus there are many foreign language terms. The foreign language terms for Eton collars are normally relatively simple because for the most part the term is a simple literal translation. Simply translate collar an add Eton. The only complication here is that the actual form taken can vary, making the precise term somewhat complicated to determine. The French, for example, do not say "collier d'Eton", but rather "col Eton". Some countries instead of using Eton, pick up on the fact that Eton was a school and the Eton collar was commonly worn as a school style and call it a school or college collar. It should be understood that in many cases there was no precise translation and people in foreign countries might have used a variety of terms. A good crossreference would be: Albanian (Kolegj Etoni), Bulgarian (Итън), Czech (Eton), Danish (krave til skoleuniform), Dutch (boord voor Eton), French (col pour écolier), German (Etonragen), Greek (μαθητικός γιακάς or περιλαίμιο για μαθητές), Hungarian (Eton), Italian (Eton), Portuguese (escola inglesa), Russian (Итонский Колледж), Serbo-Croatian (eton), Spanish (cuello de colegial or Eton), Swedish (Eton), and Turkish (ceket yakası üzerine dönen gömlek yakası).

Chronology

I am not yet sure of the precise chronologyj of the Eton collar. We are not entirely sure about the collars worn by Eton boys in the early 19th century. Surely they were Eton collars, but we are sure about the size of the collars and preceisely when boys began wearing them. We note boys in Europe wearing good sized Eton collars at mid-century. It was a fasionablbe style worn primarily by boys from affluent families. American boys at the time tended to wear very small collars, some were barely vissible above the jacket. The Eton collar was one of styles used for these small collars. The Eton collar had become increasingly important by the 1870s for a well dressed boy's wardrobe. We see them in both Europe and America. The Eton collar was widely worn in the 1890s with a variety of outfits. It was worn by boys from a much wider social spectrum than in the early- and mid-19th century. A good example is an unidentified American boy. Boys wore them not only when dressing up, but also to svhool. The Eton collar was commonly worn through the 1910s, but began to become less popular in the 1920s as soft collars made inwards. Some boys in the 1920s might commonly wear soft collars, but his dress suit might have an Eton collars. They were largely replaced by soft collar shirts in the 1920s, but see wee them occassionally into the 1940s.

Style

The Eton collar was a large, stiff white collar. Unlike some other styles, there were only limited ways that you could change an Eton collar. The principal wy was chnging the size of the collar. The sizes varied somewhat. Many were about 2 inches wide. While large by our standards, they were relatively small compared to the lace and ruffled collars many boys wore in the 1880s through the 1900s. The Eton collar certainly looked uncomfortable. Many English schools besides Eton required them through the 1920s. A few traditional schools in England even required them in the 1930s. But more than schoolwear, the Eton collar was a standard for boys' wear, thlthough this varied widelty among countries. Many at the time did not believe a boy to be well dressed for a formal occasion without an Eton collar.


Figure 2.--This boy in a photograph probably taken in the 1890s wears a floppy bow with his Eton collar and kilt suit. Note the number of buttons on his jacket and the lack of any belt.

Detachable

The Eton collar was a detachable collar. Modern readers are accustomed to buying shirts with the collars attached as an integral part of the shirt. This is not, of course, how shirts used to be bought. During the second half of the 19th cntury and the early 20th cenbtury, one would buy a waist or shirt waist and then several collars to go with it. As vests or waistcoats were common, one would not always change the shirtwist, but often only the collar. This was done for a variety of reasons. It reduced washing, a critical factor in the 19th and early 20th century household and made shirtwaist last longer because the collar is where shirts often wear out first. This ment by simply changing your collar a boy or man could give a very neat, well kept appearance.

Bows and Ties

There was no accepted convention for the neckwear associated with an Eton collar. Some boys wore bow ties with their Eton collars, but often no tie was worn at all. Boys wearing Eton collars with kilt suits were most likely to wear a bowtie or small bow with the Eton collar. Some boys in suits also wore bows, but I think this was younger American boys and was much less common in England. Eton collars were less common in France, but the images I have seen usually show some kind of neckwear with them. The vertical necktie was not usually worn with Eton collars in England and America, but French boys did wear them. I'm not unsure why this was, but not all fashion conventions are clarly understood.

Hair Styles

Boys wearing Eton collars generally wear short hair. Many mothers in the late 19th Century thought long ringlet curls were an attractive hair styles for their sons. This was usually not the case for boys in Eton collars as most mothers considered the Eton collar a style for older boys and thus usually had the boys's curls cut before buying him an Eton collar.

Conventions

We are not entirely sure of the conventions for wearing Eton collars. Most of the photographs we have of boys wearing Eton collars are formal portraits or school photographs. We are not entirely sure under what occassions boys wore Eton collars. The Eton collar was a dressy style. Meaning that boys wore them when dressing up for important occassions or school. But then again people dressed more formally during the 19th and early 20th century than is the case today. We do not know, for example, if boys when they came home from school took their Eton collars off. A factor here is social class. Boys from wealthy families were expected to dress more formally than working class boys. The relative rarity of casual photography makes this question somewhat difficult to assess based on the photographic record. A useful photograph is the Clark boys in 1887. They are with their pony and dog, but as it is a wealthy family and obviously posed, we are still unsure about the conventions for Eton collars.

Clothing

The Eton collar was worn with a wide variety of different clothes. The best known of course is the Eton suit, but the Eton collar was much more widely known than just with Eton suits. The style became very popular and cane to be worn with many different outfits. They were worn by younger boys with dresses and kilt suits. It was a popular collar with the Highland kilt. We note them being worn with tunic suits. They were worn with a wide rnge of dofferent suits like the Norfolk suit. We even note them being worn with sailor suits. The Eton suit in America was adopted as a suit style for tounger boys and at first was worn with the Eton collar.


Figure 3.--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.

Colors and Patterns

We note countless example of boys wearing Eton collars for nearly a centuty througout Europe and North America as well as many other counbtries with Western influences. And in almost all of those hundreds of thousands if not millions of surviving images we seem to find pristine, gleaming white collars. This was the cases for the vast majority of images we have found in the photographic record. Many of the images we have found are American, but this is because we have greater ccess to Ameican images and the fact that the United states left alrger phoyogeaphic record than any other county. But in every country we have worked on we see almost all gleaming white Eton collars rather than colored or pattererned Etons. We think there were some colored collars, but have not yet found clear examples. We have, however found a few examples of Eton collars done with patterns. So far the examples we have noted are American, but we suspect that they have been avaulable in other coyntries as well. Even in America, however, they were a very small part of the huge number of gleaming White Eton collars we have archived. We think that the relative proprtion of examples in the photographic record are a good reflection of actial prevalence. Which would mean that the prevalence was rather rare, especially in countries other than the United States.

National Trends

The Eton collar is of course most associated with England where it first appeared. We are still collectging information on the chronological trends in England. It appears to be an example of a style set by the upper class, in this case boys at an elite public (private) school that was adopted by middle class and wiorking class boys. It was also widely worn in other parts of the British isles such as Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Eton collars were worn in several different countries, although chronological trends and social image varied from country to country. The Eton collar was also very popular in America, but we have noticed far fewer examples in other countries which appears to suggest that was less popularin other European countries. In England it was worn by boys of widely varying social circumstances. In most other countries it had more of an upper-class appeal. We note several accounts of boys who got inro trouble with their peers for wearing Eton collars which were considered rather hoity-toity by the other boys.

Current Situation

Eton collars are no longer worn by boys. The only exception I know of is the choir costumes worn by some English boy choirs. It gives a rather snappy look, but also looks rather uncomfortable.






HBC





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Created: March 20, 1998
Last updated: 7:32 PM 4/30/2015