Skip to main content

The history of shirt collars

By August 15th, 2021November 18th, 2021Culture

Once upon a time...the history of shirt collars

 

The collar, that little piece of fabric that wraps around the neck, which largely defines the look of a shirt, has undergone many changes throughout history. Sometimes discreet or downright extravagant, it has been a determining factor in the popularisation of the white shirt, allowing it to really "rise from the neck" to become one of the essential pieces of our wardrobe. A look back at its history.

When the shirt starts to "grow out of the collar

 

The "collar" appeared in Europe at the beginning of the Renaissance, more precisely at the end of the 15th century. It became the only visible part of the white shirt, which was still struggling to show itself to everyone, hidden under other fabrics. Initially very simple and worn mainly by men of faith, the collar is a symbol of humility and purity and is gradually integrated into the wardrobe of the nobility, which will make it a real fashion phenomenon. Because of this public exposure, the shirt collar had to be worked and impeccable.

During the first half of the 16th century, the collar was first raised along the neck and trimmed with gathers, giving the appearance of a small tiller, before being folded over the edges during the 1530's. A few decades later, around 1550, the folded collar lengthened slightly to the size we know today, but it did not correspond to the modern collar, which was developed several centuries later in the 19th century. Indeed, the flap is more of a suspension of fabric, with no folds present to give the neat appearance we are used to seeing today. It is particularly noticeable as it stands out against the dark and austere costume that is typical of these years.

Attributed to François Quesnel, Portrait of Henri III, ca. 1580, oil on wood, 66×52 cm, Musée du Louvre

Nevertheless, among courtiers and other gentlemen, the strawberry trend replaced the collar for a time. However, the collar did not disappear completely. It still appears in portraits of professional men, namely men of letters, law and science, but also of devotees, mainly Protestants. The flapped collar returned to the court of the King of France following the Counter-Reformation, the reaction of the Catholic Church to the Protestant Reformation, which appropriated this distinctive element from the Protestants. This trend marks the return of a certain austerity of dress that will not last so long.

Luxury and extravagance: the evolution of the collar in the 17th century

 

As the 17th century progressed, the collar became more and more of a luxury item, diversifying in terms of materials and being decorated with increasingly sophisticated details, such as reticella lace. This was especially the case in England, where members of the court were portrayed wearing collars with larger flaps, richly decorated with lace, somewhat reminiscent of strawberries. From then on, this little piece of cloth became a symbol of social position, reflecting the wealth of the wearer. The recently enriched nobility and bourgeoisie vied with each other in creativity, launching increasingly extravagant fashions in order to establish their position within this ultra-hierarchical society. The collar extends over the shoulders, becomes heavier - i.e. more rigid - and rises into a stand-up collar to hold its host's neck as if in weightlessness, giving him a haughty bearing. The mounted collar gradually takes the form of a rigid, fairly wide tray, with the lacy teeth characteristic of the early 17th century. Because of the extravagance of these pieces, they could sometimes be dissociated from the body of the shirt. 

Frans Pourbus the Younger, Portrait of Louis XIII, ca. 1616

The evolution of the collar in the various kingdoms of Europe is indicative of many of the societal developments in each, particularly in terms of religion. As Protestant puritanism spread and took hold in northern Europe, collars tended to remain more reasonable in size and even ornament than in southern countries, notably the kingdom of France. In the French court, the flaps, always empesés and sometimes notched, sagged, giving rise to the large flapped collar covering the collarbones and then the entire shoulders. This type of collar is particularly representative of the reign of Louis XIII.

Philippe de Champaigne, Louis XIII King of France Crowned by Victory, 1635, oil on canvas, 228×175 cm, Musée du Louvre

The return to measure and sobriety at the end of the 17th century

 

As the century progressed, the flaps became smaller and then vertically longer, covering the upper chest. It was around this time that flapped collars began to be supplanted by the ancestor of the cravat, introduced by Croatian mercenaries commissioned by Louis XIII and Louis XIV to fight alongside the French army. The folded collar was relegated to the official clothes of churchmen, magistrates and ministers.

Pierre Lacour, René-Nicolas-Charles-Augustin de Maupeou, Chancellor of France, ca. 1750, oil on canvas, 134×103 cm, Chateau de Versailles

From the 18th century onwards, the neckline of the shirt became very basic again, more or less plunging, with edges that were less emphatic than at the time, which was closed with a strip of fabric, either a lavaliere or a regatta (the ancestor of the cravat).

 

The advent of modern collars in the industrial age

 

The 19th century was a crucial stage in the path towards modernity, not only in technical terms with the Industrial Revolution, but also in social terms and therefore in terms of clothing - if we consider clothing as the materialization of the state of a society. As we mentioned in our article on the emancipation of women, it was at this time that men's suits became more sober and with them, the shirt, a major part of the suit, became more structured. The first tailors flourished in France and England. Shirt-making was practically elevated to the status of a science. Each of its components was studied and rethought to correspond to the spirit of the times, to modernity. Collars were no exception to this dynamic.

One of the major advances in the world of shirtmaking came in the early 19th century. It was the 1820s in Troy, USA. Hannah Lord Montague was a housewife. She is in charge of the household chores, including the washing of her husband, who wears white shirts. Noticing that the dirt was concentrated mainly on the collar, she decided to remove all the collars from her husband's shirts and added a buttonhole on the back and a button just above the back yoke. Without knowing it, the woman who simply wanted to save time in her household revolutionised the shirt industry. A few years later, in 1827, removable collars were mass-produced in all styles, as can be seen in this advertising plate from Troy-based shirtmaker Cluett. New collar shapes were defined and codified by tailors, usually British or American. Collars with folded flaps rubbed shoulders with broken collars, or high collars of the officer or old tubular type that went up the whole height of the neck. The majority of collars we know today were invented between 1880 and 1910.

With the industrialisation of removable collars, the social symbolism of the latter was reinforced. Indeed, "white collars" refer to executives working in offices, as opposed to "blue collars" which refer to workers.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the collar was again integrated into the body of the shirt.

 

Our range of collars at Bourrienne Paris X

 

To be elegant in all circumstances, Bourrienne Paris X offers a variety of collars.

When it comes to shirts, the French collar remains a safe bet. Considered the classic collar par excellence, it is distinguished by its small opening ideal for refining your face. To be worn with or without a tie.

The white shirt for men with Italian collar is one of the timeless shirts of our brand. Ideal for wearing with a tie, our white shirts with Italian collar will be the allies of your working days.

Of military origin, the officer's collar was, as its name suggests, found on the jackets of officers' uniforms in the 19th century. Today, Bourrienne Paris X is rehabilitating it to make it a must for casual elegance.

At the crossroads between an officer collar and a broken collar, the Bourrienne collar is one of the brand's emblematic details. Recognisable by its bevelled cut at the front, this Bourrienne collar brings a chic and casual touch to your white shirt.