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The Interesting History of Shirt Collars

Have you ever stop to think about the history of the shirt collar you use to go to work pretty much every day? Shirt collars are ancient; it is said that the history of collars started around 1300 with a wool of linen fabric that was built right into shirts and came up as high as the jaw, sticking to the neck and opening outward in a ruffled pattern.

The linen collar was worn mostly by nobles, but it was also built into the armor of soldiers from the time. In late 15th century, the collar evolved to something called Ruff.

The ruff was a detachable collar used in Western Europe by women, men, and children; it was made of fabric (a lot of fabric) and used around the neck and wrists. The ruff became a symbol of fashion and a significant item of clothing as commonly worn by Queen Elizabeth I.

Painting of Admiral Sir John Hawkins Wearing a Ruff Collar

Admiral Sir John Hawkins Wearing a Ruff Collar.

The collar changes again in mid 16th century with the discovery of starch. Starch allowed ruffs to be bigger and still keep its shape. You can say that starch allowed ruffs to reach their more elongated state.

The end of the 16th century saw the ruffled collar fall out of common style where it was replaced by a far easier and simpler attire of clothing, the band collar. Not like the band collar we all know today, but as a detached collar that would go around a person’s neck.

It was only in the 17th century, that the collar started to grow closer to the neck and becoming something that we all recognize as a today’s collar, and in the 18th century, a popular collar made its first appearance.

A Shirt Collar Trend Starts in the 18th Century

The Peter Pan collar (similar to the club collar) came to life when Maude Adams, who played the role of Peter Pan in a children’s play, wore the collar creating a significant trend. Therefore, this collar was very common between children, mainly boys that wanted to be like Petter Pan.

The 1920s were a significant time for shirt collars, most of the collars we know today were either invented or re-branded around this time, so men started to think more about their options becoming aware of the different outfits available.

In the 1920s collars became softer and reached a shape that we recognize today, and that was the point collar. Nonetheless, they were mostly detached and always white.

It also around this time that Rene Lacoste, a wildly successful tennis player decided that the shirts worn by athletes within his sport were too stiff, so he replaced it with a cotton shirt with loose knitting and an un-starched flat collar – the kind that we see in polo shirts today. But players use to popped the collars up, to cover their necks and protect them from the sun.

These collars were known as popped collars,  and became famous in America for those that wanted the athletics look; nowadays, brands like Ralph Lauren and Lacoste have made this collar fashionable, and it’s casual, but smart look that can be worn by men and women.

Also around the 1920s the Petter Pan collar evolved into the Club collar, it became smaller and was well fitted with a collar pin, small tie knot, and a suit for a traditional 1920s looks. The tab collar was also soon introduced, it had the same concept, but instead of a collar pin, the tab collar has two small tabs that you can attach to each other bringing the collar ends together.

Around mid-1920s men’s collars were mostly attached and not all white, but it was only in late 1920s that collars started to be made of the same material of dress shirts. Nonetheless, detachable collars were still available and were often used.

Detachable collars were practical as you could wash them separately from your shirts, meaning that you could wear a shirt many times before washing, but having still a nice and clean collar to go with it. They were also popular because you could stiff them over and over again, such as the wingtip (wing collar) that was preferred for evening wear.

In the late 1930s, shirts became more popular; at this time, the detachable collar was no longer fashionable. All shirts have an attached collar, most of them being point collars and the industry starts to invent new collars and use different fabric in the production of shirts.

In the 1940s, the button-down collar is being used, and variation of the spread collar also start to surface; the movie industry was a huge contributor to the growth of shirt collars, as movies such as Casablanca pictured men wearing very stylish shirts.

From the 1940s to 1950s point collars, striped shirts, and French cuffs became more popular, and shirts started to get more colourful, adding a bit of color to the traditional white and plain shirts. Also about this time men often ditch the tie and would leave two undone buttons at the top of their collar, some would leave five undone buttons for a casual outdoor look.

In the 1960s shirts became more affordable and widely find in many high street shops, not just in tailor shops, so more guys could afford to buy them. At this point in time the straight point collar and spread collars are quite popular. Also at this time, patterns make its way to the stores and together with light grey and brown suits a new trend was created.

The beginning of the 1970s was all about wider collars and trousers as disco comes to change the traditional casual look for a colorful, bold, and relaxed style; and brands such as Haggar made its first appearance.

Towards the end of 1970, there is yet a new change to men fashion as the snug-fitting starts to trend creating a variation of tight shirts and suits (and smaller collars) to fit a more young clientele. Also at the 1970s, we see the return of the waistcoat and the three piece suit for a formal office look.

In the 1980s, men style becomes more comfortable as loose jackets and blazers are introduced and often used over point and classic spread collars plus a tie with the traditional four-in-hand or half-windsor knot for formal occasions.

In the 1990s, there was a boom of new trends as flannel shirts with thick collars and check patterns along flannel blazers, and Converse ‘All Star’ shoes make its way to all high street stores along floral shirts with point collars that were worn without a tie and with open buttons at the top.

In the 2000s, collars now have different spreads and fit different tie knots, and the business wear changed again introducing a smart casual look, where trousers and blazers take over from three piece suits for a more comfortable outfit that you could still wear at work. Also at this time we see a came back of our favourite clothes from 60s, 70s, and 80s and get to wear our loved combat boots and aviators sunglasses again.

In the 2010s, is all about pop fashion, the club collar and tab collar are rebranded and became popular again, and the fashion industry continues to expand menswear at a fast pace. Collars continued to evolve and are a sign of charm, elegance, and smart look that is essential if you want to cause a good first impression.

Now that we know a lot more about shirt collars, where they started, and how they evolved to became what we wear today,  let’s look at the meaning of collars, and understand its purpose.

What is the Point of the Collar?

As mentioned above, it is said that the shirt collar started as a form to protect your neck from the sun, but while this creates a sense of purpose for a collar, that is not all, because if you think about it, at Queen Elizabeth I era, ruffs are a status of prestige and power.

These days, wearing a collar is not much different. A shirt collar is such a basic piece of clothing, which we wear all the time. We use it to go to work, to go for walks, to spend quality time with family members, and we also wear them to parties and more specific events in order to look presentable.

Everywhere you go you can spot men and women wearing shirt collars because your look is important, you want to dress well, and we know that a shirt is the easiest way to achieve this look. It’s also a fashion statement, which speaks loudly about you. And with this thought in mind, we jump into the next topic.

What Does a Shirt Collar Say About You?

Agin, going in back in time, is clear that posh and well-dressed people were better seen by society, so even there, 100 plus years ago, dressing well was also important and would have helped you to get a job and be part of a group of influential people that were respected and taken into consideration.

Nowadays, even though most people know that is important to dress to impress, there is still some people that think about collars on their shirts as just another part of the shirt, no different than the trousers and jacket they are also wearing, but they play a greater role that you might initially think.

Collared shirts became something that frames your face and is the first piece of clothing people can see while greeting you, therefore, is something that says a lot about your personality. For example, a shirt without a collar often speaks to some casual or unprofessional wear.

Showing up for an interview wearing a shirt without a collar is just unthinkable. If you want to get a job dress accordingly. You need to have a nice shirt on (with a collar) and depending on the type of job you are applying for a full suit can make a huge difference.

Dressing well can give you the extra point you need to get a job, close a deal or get into college. So always dress to impress, as people will think highly of you if you put the effort to dress well; this will also show them that you care, for whatever occasion you are attending.

When you show that you care, people feel important, and this will result in you being treated nicely and can improve your chances to get what you are after.

With all of that in mind, it looks like that if we like it or not, dressing well is key to achieving the things that matter to us. Combine that and the fact that a shirt collar is a big part of today’s fashion industry; being on display in every magazine and every high street shops, we would all be fools to ignore its importance. So make sure you have loads of smart looking shirts in your closet.

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