Collars are neckbands attached to the neckline of a shirt. Removable collars were invented in 1827 by Hannah Lord Montague (1794–1878) of Troy, New York. They fastened either at the front or the back of a shirt with a collar button, a stud on a shank, or shaft, that slips through two small eyelets on a collar. They became popular money-saving items when clothing was custom-sewn and expensive. Collars detached from the body of shirts for laundering separately, which extended the life of the shirt. Even after shirts became mass manufactured, removable collars remained popular. They were a common part of men's, and some women's, wardrobes into the 1930s.
Montague's invention so impressed manufacturers in Troy that they began mass-producing detachable collars locally for sale to a world market. Making these collars called for only a small investment; factory workers, usually low-paid women, needed only scissors, material, and a spool of thread to cut and sew collars. So successful was the venture that Troy became known as "collar city," with twenty-five collar factories by 1897.
During the first two decades of the twentieth century, collars were manufactured primarily in white. They were made of cotton and linen fabrics and made stiff by dipping them in thin cooking starch. "Linene" collars were cotton bonded to thin but stiff cardboard called card stock, and "linex" collars were linen bonded to card stock. Others were bonded to celluloid, a flammable substance mainly used in the manufacture of film stock. Straight-standing collars for formal wear were worn with evening suits. These collars were very rigid and ranged in height from two to three inches. A sudden jerking of the head could cause a chafing at the bottom of the jaw with these collars. For less formal functions, a man wore a "wing" collar, a hard collar with the front edges folded downward to resemble wings, or a "fold-over" collar, a hard collar that is turned down. A collar might cost thirty-five cents individually, or four to five dollars for a box of twenty-five collars.
For business and leisure wear, various styles of white detachable collars were worn with pastel or bright-colored shirts in solids, patterns, or stripes. As office work became more available in the early 1900s, the prestige attached to a clean white collar led to the term "white-collar worker," a term that is still in use to refer to office or business professionals. Women who chose to wear tailored suits with shirtwaists and ties also sometimes wore detachable collars.
During World War I (1914–18), soldiers in the United States armed forces wore soft-collared uniforms. After the war men's styles became more relaxed for the comfort of the wearer. Detachable "spread" collars, extended flat collars, as opposed to straight-standing, made of softer materials became popular. By the 1930s only older, conservative dressers kept the tradition of detachable collars.
Keers, Paul. A Gentleman's Wardrobe: Classic Clothes and the Modern Man. New York: Harmony Books, 1987.
Shep, R. L., and Gail Cariou. Shirts & Men's Haberdashery. Mendocino, CA: R. L. Shep Publications, 1999.
Turbin, Carole. "Fashioning the American Man: The Arrow Collar Man, 1907–1931." Gender and History 14, no. 3 (November 2002): 470–91.