Collars on Boys' Shirts: Detachable


Figure 1.--Detachable collars were commonly worn in the early 20th century, bit rapidly went out of style after World War I (1914-18). Thus unidentified portrait shows an American boy wearing a detachable collar, probably in the 1910s or early-20s. It looks rather like an Eton collar, except that it is rounded.

The modern reader may not realize that in the 19th and early 20th century, many shirts came with detachable collars. This was an inovation adopted in the early 19th century, surprisingly in America. Most fashion inovation in the 19th century came from Europe. The detachable collar was invented in 1827 by an American housewife. By mid-century the detachable collar had become quite widespread for dress shirts. This was especially the case with Eton collars, an English fashion which became a staple for boys' wear. Detachable collars were an important labor saving device. Housewives had to wash an entire shirt when it was primarily the collar that wore out. Often the collar of a shirt wore out while the rest of the shirt was still serviceable.

Professional Image

Middle class workers had to look smart in the 19th century. There was no such thing as dress down Fridays or casual office clothes. Office workers and professionals were expected to dress smartly. This presented a serious problem for their wives--unless they were wealthy enough to afford hired help to do the laundry. Immaculate white collars became a status symbol of the growing force of clerks and professionals manning the offices that cairred out the industrialization of America and Europe in the 19th century. Soon it becam fasionble to stiffly starch linen collars. Then other substitures were intoduced to cut down expensive lundering, primarily paper-celluloid and even rubber.

Terminology

White shirts were once a standard for middle class office workers and professionals. Manual workers wore colored shirts that did not show the dirt which is where we get the expression "white" and "blue collar" workers. And not only did manual workers wear colored shirts, but their shirts did not have detachable and uncomfortable collars.

Laundry

Today we give little attention to washing clothes. It is also so simple with modern blended easy to care for fabrics, washing machines, and an array of detergents, bleaches, fabric softners and much more. Often teenagers, including boys are now involved with washing clothes. This was not always the case. The family laundry used to be an arduous, back breaking effort perforned only by mothers and daughters. It is thus understandable that children once wore their clothes longer than is the case today and why, in addition to the cost, so much care was taken to protect clothes.

Collar Wear

A problem with shirts is that the collar often wears out before the rest oif the shirt. That is because to collar gets dirtier than the rest of the shirt. With under shirt or union suit made out of wool or heavy cotton, sweat was probably less a problem so wearing a shirtwaist several times between washings is different than it would be today. The collar, however, was in direct contact with the skin and as such would dirty sooner and need more washings. Thus in the collar had to be thoroughly scrubbed on laundry day. This actually is still the case. Remember the TV "ring around the collar" commercials for laundry soap? In the 19th cenury without modern laundry detrgents, the collars had to be scubbed with abrasives and quickly wore out. Given the high relative cost of clothing, this cold men a substantial ependiture.

Hannah Montague

Most great inventors are men. This is surely primarily because women until recently have been expected to stay home and manage the family. This was certainly the case in the 19th century. It was thus the wives that had to wash all those shirts. One of those wives saddled with the washing chores was Hannah Montague from Troy, New York. Her Husband was a fastidious man and insistd on immacuale collars. Apparently she got tired of constantly laundering her husband's shirts just to get the collars clean. She came up with the ide of cutting off the collars and washed them separately. In doing so, she invented the the detachable collar. The result was a reduction in her lundry work load. It also resulted in the creation of an etire new industry.

Chronology

Mrs. Montague's solution was elegantly simple. As many women at the time had sewing skills, it was something that most could easily accomplish. Mrs. Montague's neigbors, also eager to reduce the weekly drugery of washing day, were impressed and adopted her sollution. Soon backyard production facilities in Troy began making collars and eventually factories were built. Mrs. Montague's husband Orlando who was the first person to wear a detachable collar, decided to manufacture the collars with business partner Austin Granger in 1834. They not only began producing an improved collar but developed the "Bishop" collar, an upright modification of the turn down collar. They also diversified beyond collars, manufacturing "dickeys" (detached shirt bosoms), as well as separate cuffs. Troy, New York became the center of colar production in America. By the late 1880's, detachable collars were being manufactured at various locations throughout America. The immaculate white collar reached extremes for both men and boys in the early 20th century. We see them in both the the 1900s and 1910s. They were worn by boys, men, and women. They were less common though for girls. We see them when boys went to school as well as dressed up. for various occassions. Men common wore them a work. There were variations here as to social class. The 20th century trend toward more comfortable, casual clothing began to be increasingly apparent after World War I. One of the areas most obviously affected was the detachable collar. They were still seen after the War in the early 1920s, but very likely declined in popularity. Here there were social class differences. We no longer see setachable collars for boys after World War II with only a few exceptions.

Types

Companies were soon offering linen collars in a wide variety of styles. Some of the major styles for men were the bishop, poke, spread, and turndown (fold), and wing collars. Detachable collars created one problem as there was a gap between the shirt and collar. The sollution was to use buttons to snap the collars in place. This also led to the development of several new collar designs. Perhaps the most important detacable collar for boys became the Eton collar.

Availability

Mail-order catalogs such as the Haberdasher, Sears-Roebuck, and Montgomery-Ward delivered detachable collars to even the most remote communities in America. By the late 19th century, most men in America and Europe wore detachable collars. Office workers wore them every day. Even mannual workers would don them on Sunday to attend Church.

Materials

We see detachable collars done in various materials. The first ones were cloth fabric collars. These would be heavily starched for best appearances. They could be laundered and then reused. Linen collars needed to be taen to laundries. There were also celuloid and paper collrs as well as rubber colars. There were also collrs done on cardboard. Paper collars were apparently not often used by boys. We see tese collars offered in period catalogs. Paper collars were discaded after use. We have also seen rubber collars, but they were not very common. We have not seen them in very many catalog. A problem here is that it is no readily apparent from avialbable photographs the material of detachable collar. The information from catalogs is a better source of information.

Gender

Detachabe collars were commonly worn by both men and boys. They aremostly associated with makes. They were not, howver, an exclusively nle garment. We see quite a number of girls and young women wearing them. They were not as commoly worn by females, but they were worn. Mostly e see girls anf young women waring them. They were unusal for middle-aged and elderly women. As with boys, there were quite a number of different styles. We do not know if there were any special conventions associated with girls wearing detachable collars. Like boys they were worn both with and without bows and other neckwear.

Attachment

Catalogs show that detachable collars like Eton collars were put on and secured with buttons at the front and and back. The back button just went into the first layer of the collar and did not show on the outside. Sonds a bit trucky and not something a younger child could not do by himself. A British reader writes, "In Britain, detachable collars were usually kept in place by collar studs and not buttons. At least, mine were in the RAF. I never heard of buttons being used. I distinctly remember struggling to get the wretched thing in behind my neck when both biceps were aching from the effect of injections. (By that, I mean legal injections that the RAF had given me.) Being born in 1932, I obviously cannot help with earlier, but the fact that collar studs were in so widespread use in my father's day, suggests that they would be used for boys also. Apart from being another case of 'being like Dad', it would be good training for when the boys became older." Another reader explains about the buttons, "Your British contributor says that he used only 'collar studs'. In America the same device was used, but they were often referred to as collar buttons even though they were really studs--usually made out of brass or nickle, but of course there were expensive collar studs (or "buttons" in American parlance) made out of gold. But I agree that the term 'buttons' is misleading. They were really studs, but they penetrated button holes in both the front and the back of the collar and functioned somewhat like buttons."

Country Trends

We do not yet have many country pages on detachable collars, although we do have several pages on Eton collars. At this time the only country page we have is the American page.

Collar Boxes

One might wonder just where all these collars were kept. Obviously unless they were stored with some care they would not give the imaculate, flawless image that they were mean to project. Indeed Victorians and Edwardians had collar boxes. These boxes had a round form in the midle to hold the collars in shape and in place. What we do not know is how common these boxesere for boys. While Eton collars were prinmarily for boys. Women and men might also wear various styles of Eton collars. We suspect that modest households might have one box for the entire family while the more affluent might have several such boxes. I'm not sure yet how boys at school made do.









HBC






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Created: March 2, 2002
Last updated: 1:31 AM 3/4/2015