A history of Stiff Collars

With wedding season blooming, stiff collars are making their return for formalwear events of all kind. The history of the detachable starched collar dates back to the 1820s and ruffs all the way back to the 1500s. With ruffs often having linked to a particular class or status, detachable stiff collars became popularized and widely worn so much so that the growing office working class was eventually termed the ‘white-collar’ workers due to the use of exactly that, the white collar.

In 1827, a woman called Hannah Montague came up with the detachable collar to fulfil her husband’s request for a clean shirt each day. It was a simpler task to clean a detachable collar rather than the entire shirt. The collar is made like the other detachable shirt parts, the starched front and the stiffened cuffs. Typically 100% cotton, the collar would be soaked in a starch solution and then dried and ironed to create a stiff rounded shape that goes around the collarless shirt.  Originally, collars were designed to reach higher up on the neck to accommodate the cravat but with the rise of bowties, we now see a range of heights and styles owing to different uses, industries and events.

"It was a simpler task to clean a detachable collar rather than the entire shirt."

The popularity of the detachable collar fell in the 1920s when America saw the rise of the adaptable Oxford shirt. Nowadays, the stiff collar is not only a traditional and historically rich piece but also one to use stylistically in formalwear. For those looking to pay homage to the Edwardian era, a highly starched, extremely tall collar with sharp edges would be worn. Similarly, barristers would traditionally wear a wing and Eton college a rounded cutaway.

 

How to wear?

 

The detachable collar is worn over a collarless shirt. Always take a size up when purchasing your collar. For example, if you are a 15’ neck, take a 15.5’ collar size. Simply use front and back collar studs to secure in place. Traditionally brass or gold with a pearl plating, collar studs include a longer piece for the front and a short one for the back.

 

Where to buy?

 

There are only a handful of small businesses in the UK offering a wide selection of heights and collar styles.

At Oliver Brown, we believe every modern gentleman should have access to a variety of traditional British formalwear. We stock three types of starched collars: The Eton, a traditional cutaway worn at Eton College with a curved edge; The Cameron, cutaway style with sharper edges; finally, The Wing which is as it says on the label.