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Collars in History

People ornament their necks with a variety of jewellery such as necklaces, pendants and strings of stones. A collar can serve as a beautiful ornament at the neckline, it can be a piece of art, and some collars can replace jewellery.

Neckline is one of the most visible parts of clothes. Originally its function is to protect the neck. ‘While the Croatian cravates of the 1600s wore their bow tie-kerchiefs as a charm against sword cuts, the neck is a famously vulnerable part of the body for any person or mammal. The tenderness of the skin, its vulnerability to cold, the relatively fragile structure of the spine, and the exposure of the jugular vein are all features which make the neck a key area of attention for the comfort and security of the body. The cultural history of the neck extends this pragmatic fuss over this part of the body. It is not only the ‘site’ of charms, whether the cravates’ kerchiefs, religious medals, mementos of self-identity or ornamental rings of beaded strands. The neck is also the object of charms itself: an erogenous zone to be stimulated, stroked and gazed upon. It is a fetish zone and object. Hence the ‘charm’ of the eroticized neck.’ (Rob Shields, 2009, p.109)

Collars’ history shows the evolution of collars from signs of the wearer’s status to practical and comfortable part of contemporary garments. As many sources state, the first collar dates from the Middle Ages. According to Scribner (2008), collars ‘grew out of the gathering of fabric at the neckline of the typical chemise, or undergarment, worn under outer layers of clothing. The chemise served to protect the outer garments from excessive wear and washing and were usually made of sturdier linen that could be bleached and cleaned with frequency. The collection of fabric at the neckline, that would be tied or cinched and form a small collar, would often stand out in its whiteness and in its fabric composition against the features of the wearer’s outer garments. By virtue of this initial distinction, it came to have an importance in its own right and the aesthetic language of the collar, or more elaborate ruff, broadened accordingly.

Women as well as men adorned themselves with the exaggerated ruffs, and it was women’s fashion that led to further adaptations in its style such as the opening of the form at the center to enhance femininity, if not to facilitate eating and movement. Eventually, the ruff gave way to the standing collar and gradually less expansive collars, but essentially paved the way for centuries of further enhancements and embellishments at the neckline’.

As Encyclopedia Britannica shows, the ruff developed as a half circle—open in front and rising in back because women wanted to show their status in society and also wished to expose the bosom.


Throughout history, collars have altered shapes and size. Doriece Colle (1972, pp. 11-13) states that in Europe, collars had been worn since 1520. The falling band had three shorter-lived contemporaries: the starched, pleated ruff (c.1550-1625), the whisk (c.1610-1675), and the falling ruff (c.1625-1630). (According to Silkforme (n.d.), from the end of the sixteenth century the word “Band” was loosely applied to any neckwear that was not a ruff.)


The falling band, that was fashionable from c.1630-1970, became the pre-eminent style of the 17th century on both sides of Atlantic. It rose from the shirt and turned over at the top of the doublet’s close-fitting standing collars and extended to varying width from the neck to the shoulder. ‘About 1630, this collar covered the sleeve tops, and was short in the front. It was closed at the neck front by means of a cord with tasseled ends, and the front edges spread open. Some falling bands, most certainly the wide ones, were detachable.

Falling bands are well known as the adornment of Cavaliers. … Bands with edging of varying lace width were a mark of tasteful, fashionable attire, and were named after the artist in whose work they were often depicted – Van Dyck. … People far from fashion’s limelight had been wearing small to medium sized, simple, round collars (some short in front) of widths reaching to various points on the shoulder, and continued to wear them through the 17th Century.’

A further development of the falling band occurred with the advent of the collarless coat (c.1660-1670). The collar edge narrowed at the shoulders, while the depth of the collar on the chest remained constant creating a bib effect. This band fell in either flat or unpressed folds of plain muslin, lawn or lace, and the folds were secured at the throat by a cord or ribbon. The falling band also shrank to two tidy vertical oblongs – a style known as ‘Geneva Bands’ which ever since has been part of certain ecclesiastical vestments.

‘In the late 17th Century (1660-1770), shirts were gathered into the neckband (attached to the shirt) which was wide enough to turn over as a small collar, or was upright to serve as an invisible backing for various cravats. In the 18th Century, the collar band of the shirt backed and supported a pleated or plain band – the stock which was fastened at the back. The collar began to appear slightly above the stock.’ It is the shirt collar that serves as foundation for other styles.

‘[T]he collar played a role in the realignment of neckwear brought about by the French Revolution. Civil war and the guillotine brought a drastic reshaping of neckclothing – rebels enlarged and heightened their neckwrapping to contrast with the stocks and ribbon bows of the aristocracy. These tall, bulky cravats were also acceptable to those aristocrats who scrambled to appear in sympathy with the rebels.’ They are usually remembered for large neckpieces which touched their ears and covered their chins or mouths. This style is associated with the Incloyables and the Macaroni clubs. However, ‘high, standing collars were also worn by sedate young gentlemen of other social circles in the 1790’s. These collars, combined with layers of outer wrappings, were forceful reminders for the wearer to hold his head erect.’

‘In America, shirt collars of the early 18th Century were folded narrowly over stocks – later the collar was wider. When, in the 1790’s, France had a few shirt collars rising upward against cheeks, American collars remained hidden.’

In the 18th century, gentlemen at home, like commoners everywhere, resorted to the ease of the unbuttoned shirt band, with or without a loosely tied scarf; workmen appeared in open-necked shirts, however, gentlemen allowed portraitists to show them with bare necks and uncovered shirt collars. The open collar style with lace shirt ruffle became fashionable as early morning street wear from the late 17th century to the early 18th century.

Although separate collars exist since 16-th century, collars became independent of shirts in 1825, when a spirit of practicality seeped into clothing design due to the power of a merchant class born of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th Century. Starched cotton or linen collars predominated as the most popular detachable collar.

Paintings by David (1748-1825) show calm, sculptural forms of neckwear. ‘The next change shows wider, more dramatic lines inspired by an age of feeling, sentiment and passive sadness, and romanticism in novels, poetry, music, and painting.’

Doriece Colle (1972, p.14) also states that ‘[i]f a gentleman respected his effect on society (especially from 1800-1840), and was staunchly loyal to the mores, he was bound to keep his neckwear in perfect alignment at all times. There were rules, and there were collars to be worn in the morning, for sports, for parties and for celebrities.’ It was suggested during this era, that a man who had no time for frequent collar changes could wear the duller side of his heavily starched collar outside during the day, and turn its shiny side out for evenings.

France offered a very low turnover collar in 1850, and then moderately low collars increased in number during the 1860’s. Collars gradually rose to close very high under the jaw and chin during the 1890’s. High and medium high in the form of standing, turnover and wing, and low collars for sports events and younger men were popular during this decade.

I suppose low collars were unpopular for older men because they hid their chicken-neck syndrome behind their high collars.

The perfectly tailored collar and flat-lying lapel invented at the beginning of the 19th Century, as Anne Hollander cited in Peter McNeil and Vicki Karaminas (2009, pp. 261-264) notes, form the most distinctive element of the modern suit-coat. The rough coat of dull cloth was gradually refined into an exquisitely balanced garment that fitted smoothly without wrinkles and buttoned without strain. ‘Its collar was forced by clever cut, steaming and stiffening to curve up and around the neck, to fold over and open out in front, and to form lapels that would obediently lie down and align themselves smoothly with the body of the coat.’

The most famous historical collar is the Elizabethan ruff. According to LIZ HAGER (2009), ‘the ruff, a Spanish style, was introduced to Tudor England by Katherine of Aragon. Elizabeth may not have been the first to add lace to the ruff, but certainly she pushed the fashion to dyzzying heights.’

Queen Elizabeth I ascended to the throne in 1558. She was an intelligent and pragmatic woman, and she was as much a symbol as an individual. By 1588 the epithet “Virgin Queen” would have been in common use. Pearls, said to be her favorite jewels, symbolise virginity, and the extravagant and delicate white lace collar also refers to her virginity, curiously mimicking the ornamental gold halos of 14th century Madonnas.

‘Elizabeth consumed endless yards of cut-work, purle (lace knitting), needlework and bone lace in order to wear her collars higher and stiffer than her subjects. … Her portraiture provides excellent documentation of the evolution of the ruff – from a tight pleated collar of lace, newly fashionable in the 1560s, through the enlarged and unfolding style of the 1570s and 80s, to the extravagant grandeur.

‘The lace of the Armada collar was most certainly needlework lace, as Elizabeth was known to have preferred the Italian styles. Its gossamer quality and repeating geometric design (with lovely and wheels) suggests a reticella, an early form of true lace said to have originated in the Ionian islands. As 17th century portraits report, reticella was hugely popular among European nobility, and made only to a limited extent in England. Elizabeth would have liked its scarcity.’

D. Duperault (n.d.) notes that from about 1560 to 1600 well-dressed Europeans wore a neck ruff. It could be attached to a shirt or made separately, and was just a ruffled strip that framed the neckline. After 1600 the ruff widened to dinner-plate size, and by 1610 the falling collar, a wide lace trimmed version of our modern shirt collar, had began to come into fashion. Elizabethan ruff demonstrated wealth, social status, rank and respect.

It is understandable that ruff was a symbol of aristocracy because the ruff hinders movement, which shows a sedimentary lifestyle of the wearer who does not need to work hard physically.

16th Century is famous with its blackwork decorated collars of that time. Blackwork is a couted-thread embroidery worked in geometric designs with black silk on even-weave linen; red and scarletwork were also popular (Paula Catherine Marmor, 1996)


In terms of history, collars are interesting not only as a part of garment but also as an example of the long, uneven, and sometimes contradictory process of change in women’s and men’s relationships to family in the USA. As Carol Tribune (1994, p.20) points out, the first detachable shirt collar was made in Troy in 1827 by Hannah Lord Montague, the wife of Orlando Montague, a prosperous merchant and manufacturer of women’s fine shoes. Mrs. Montague solved a common household problem: since men’s collars inevitably soiled before the shirt, she had to launder the entire shirt when only the collar needed cleaning. She made a detachable collar that could be washed, starched, and ironed separately from the shirt.

Collar manufacturing, like other branches of the garment trades, began as a household industry. As a result Troy was called a 'collar city'. It was the city of opportunities for female employment and the home of the first continuously organised women’s union. Carol Tribune (1994, pp. 4, 20-21, 212) also states that the collar industry’s organization augmented women’s labor activism because it increased the possibilities for workers to use strategies that were effective for unskilled workers in the time when women where unskilled. Troy’s collar women formed strong unions partly because Troy was a good place for working men and women to work and to organize.

At first collar makers employed daughters and wives who were accustomed to contributing to their family’s livelihood. The first collar maker was Rev. Ebenezer Brown, a retired Methodist minister who ran a small try woods store. In 1829, Mr. Brown’s wife and daughter began to cut collars that were sent out to be stitched, washed, starched and ironed by women in other households.

The shirt, collar, and cuff industry produced almost all the nation’s detachable collars and cuffs and was seventh in capital investment of New York State’s apparel industries, including New York City’s already vast clothing industry. In the 1860s, about 3,700 women worked in collar factories and shops and hundreds, perhaps thousands, stitched collars in homes in Troy and vicinity. By the 1860s, the iron and collar industries dominated the region’s economy, and by the 1880s collar factories employed over 8,000 operatives, and thousands of homeworkers.

Collar making did not transfer work formerly done by women for their families from households to large scale institutions, but rather established a vast outwork system that employed as many, if not more, home workers as factory operatives. Even firms with sophisticated sewing machines sent collars out to homeworkers, who did the finer work, like buttonholding.

‘Collar workers did industrial work in a branch of manufacturing that was a major part of New York States’s growing garment industry. Collar sewers – banders, runners, and turners, - stitched collars by hand or machine. Laundresses – washers, starchers, and ironers – prepared newly manufactured collars for sale to retailers. While collar sewers worked at home or in factories, laundresses toiled in independently owned laundries or in the laundering departments of large collar factories. Like many nineteenth-century industrial workers, collar women labored for long hours under trying conditions. Loundresses’ working conditions were especially harsh. Washers worked with boiling water, starchers had to contend with caustic starches and potentially dangerous detergents, and ironers handled hot, heavy irons.’ The first commercial laundry was set up by one of the collar manufacturers. This laundry washed, starched, and ironed products for other firms as well as some public laundry.


Nowadays, if the collar of an old shirt is damaged, people prefer to buy a new shirt instead of changing detachable collars and cleaning collars separately from shirts, because the process of washing luckily is much more easier than it was centuries ago. Changing collars on a shirt is not urgent today also because people become merely bored with old clothes and they like to renew their wardrobes. Separate collars exist today predominantly as accessories and jewellery.

As well as historical ruff, some contemporary collars can demonstrate social status too, in case if they belong to a high-fashion label. For instance, if someone can recognize a luxury brand name looking at the neckline of a garment, they can read the status of the wearer.

One of the ways to be different from other brands is to be recognizable through the details. It is important especially for high fashion labels because their clients often want people from their environment to recognize the brands they wear. The simplest way to display the brand name is to write it straight on garments, which happens normally with T-shirts, but it is much more interesting when people recognize a brand name through the details and without looking at the tag, so only those who are familiar with these details can recognise the label. Italian high-fashion label Moschino has definitely succeeded in this.

Moschino is known with its ironic approach to fashion. Although many Moschino’s garments are collarless, their necklines are fancifully decorated. Iconic symbols of this label such as hearts, pins, hairgrips, teddy bears, earrings, keys, and even tape measures and thimbles embellish Moschino’s necklines. In 2011, Moschino’s collection numbered over 100 unique neckline designs.

Womenswear collection Autumn/Winter 2011/12 displayed at Milan Fashion Week shown a plenty of iconic details displayed at the neckline. A reinterpretation of Moschino’s famous vintage teddy bear collar was represented by beaded bears in golden colour lying on black folded ribbons, which is an absolutely recognisable design element that remains iconic throughout the decades since it appeared in 80s. High wing-collared white shirts were presented as masculine elements of that collection. However, they looked very feminine because of camellias pinned at the neck of white shirts instead of bow ties, yet this kind of collars is usually worn with the bow tie. At Moschino catwalk, models often have iconic label’s earrings in their ears, and there were also jackets with earrings attached to their necklines in collection Autumn/Winter 2010/11. Some neckline ornaments of Moschino definitely replace jewellery. If you wear this kind of a top you do not need extra embellishment, because the neck is already decorated.

Moschino symbols also include a cow, a symbol of peace, and Smile! Some collars of the 2011 collection were highly embellished with iconic buttons where hearts, flowers, the letter ‘M’, and a symbol of peace appeared. These elements make the suit recognizable, firstly, because of the symbols, and secondly, because of the way they are bedecked.

Moschino pays great attention to details and quite often uses necklines as the focus of a garment. Unquestionably Moschino is good in transferring clothes from catwalk shows to physical stores adorning casual and formal clothes in an ironic manner, whereas spectacular gowns displayed on fashion weeks by many other brands are very different from soft-spoken clothes put on display for sale.

In shopping centers, Moschino layout is recognizable due to its neckline designs. Moschino is an example of the label that represents details which remain identifiable as long as the company exists, but there are also details which appear only for relatively short periods but they also make clothes recognisable. For instance, a strongly recognisable leather detail applied to Miu Miu necklines, shoes, handbags, and belts features its collection Spring/Summer 2011. Such items do not need any logos appeared on them in an obtrusive way, this detail represents the label without any words. Leather belts of curved lines in different colours cleverly adorned necklines of that collection.


Ute Ploier, an Austrian menswear designer, pays great attention to the neckline design in her collections. Unusual textile combinations and manufacturing techniques are at the basis of her designs. She pays attention to details, and a humorous element is inherent in her approach.

Multi-ringed neck from 2009 collection is the most outstanding collar designed by Ute Ploier by this day. Another noticeable collar with a multi-layered black-and-white detail was presented in her ‘3D’ collection in 2008. In the same year, the designer created a multi-layered rectangular detail fastened to the collar band with two buttons. Obviously the bow tie was taken as the prototype for designing this detail. It scarcely resembles the bow tie, but we can understand that this is an innovative bow tie because of the place it is positioned on the shirt.

One of the key design elements of Man Machine collection, Autumn/Winter 2010/11, was a collar, or a cowl neck, that turns into a scarf, and a pocked underneath formed due to applying studs which divide the scarf into two parts.

Although the designer’s experiments are quite brave for male fashion, her clothes remain wearable. Yet many Ute Ploier’s outfits can be recognisable through the collars, they cannot serve as permanent brand identity elements because each new collection of Ute Ploier can be absolutely different from a previous one, so there may be no connection between them.

Another one example of noticeable collars in men’s fashion was presented by Prada. Double collars featured its collection in 2008. Double collars made of leather and fur were combined with wide knitted collars making an eye-catching detail that featured womenswear collection Autumn/Winter 2010/11.

There is a brand in female fashion that pays great attention to the neckline design and which collections always have necklines designed in an unusual way – it is Karen Millen. Gemma Metheringham, the creative director of Karen Millen, started her career as a garment designer at Marks&Spencer, where her claim to fame was that she slightly changed the neckline on a best-selling women’s lambswool sweater, as she stated at her interview for (29 March, 2009). Gemma’s awareness of the importance of the neckline design is clearly seen at Karen Millen’s dresses, tops, T-shirts, cloaks and coats.

Holly Fulton, a British designer, who is well-known with her graphic print and hot accessories, particularly with big necklaces, designs necklines applying her distinguishable techniques. Necklines of Holly’s garments look very much the same as her necklaces, with plenty of plastic and crystals, others display printed geometric patters in style of her current signature, and both look futuristic.

Many breathtaking collar designs can be seen chiefly at catwalks. Alexander McQueen’s theatrically look fashion shows always present some of the most unusual and exquisite neckline designs. Some collars of Spring/Summer 2012 collection are completely embellished with white and red corals. In opposite to Moschino, details of necklines at Alexander McQueen’s collections, do not look iconic, though they are uncommon for collars. (Actually everything becomes common in terms of theatrical look.)

What makes Chanel’s necklines distinctive is wide stand-away collar found in many collections, usually in an iconic black and white contrast with the whole garment. This collar style creates an elegant and exquisite look that emphasizes female neck and also adds a sense of vintage.



Women’s clothes can be highly decorated with flowers, birds, animals, sequins, beads, hearts, and everything that can be called ‘cute’. This enables women’s fashion brands to apply their recognisable signs to clothes, footwear and accessories in a boundless creative way. Whereas men’s fashion brands are compelled to find new ways for displaying their identity through the clothes they produce or to use time-proved ways of displaying their brand identity through the details. Neckline is a place where such details can be displayed.

As male fashion is about details, and men have fewer accessories to beautify their look than women have, collar in male fashion can serve as a recognisable, or at least noticeable, detail. Collars of men’s clothes is also an area for textile innovations; many shirts are thrown away just because their collars become shabby, and textile innovations of the future possibly will prolonger their life.

I consider neckline to be important part of men’s clothes as this is about measures and boundaries; if a man crosses these boundaries he can be misunderstood.

According to Flügel sited in Vicky Karaminas (2009, pp.2-3), modern clothing allows few outlets for personal vanity among men, for instance, to be dressed ‘correctly’ or ‘in good taste’ is the utmost that a modern man can hope for because all originality or beauty in clothing being reserved for women.

Many men try to avoid effeminate look in their appearance. It would be strange to see a man with off-the-shoulder neckline, one-shoulder neckline, sweetheart neckline, décolleté or the Peter Pan collar. Off-the-shoulder neckline is shaped to expose the beauty of women’s shoulders, sweetheart neckline is shaped to accentuate woman’s breast, so if a man worn garments with such necklines he would look like a transvestite, rarely as a metrosexual. However, there are many off-the-shoulder sweaters in male fashion, but they are worn basically with classic shirts that hide shoulders. These examples demonstrate how important are measures for necklines in male fashion and boundaries for the body exposure.

It is obvious from the neckline vocabulary that all neckline styles may be applied to women’s fashion, whereas men’s fashion has exceptions. For example, the Peter Pan collar is normally applied in women’s fashion and children’s clothes for both girls and boys, because of its curved lines. It is widely known that in fashion angularity associates with masculinity and curvilinear with femininity.

In both male and female fashion, the neckline is about measures and boundaries. One neckline can make an erotic look exposing the body (and even vulgar in some cases), and the other creates an absolutely opposite formal look. Fastening all the buttons at the neckline can create a modest look, while having one to three buttons unfastened may create a sexy look. However, Russian style of wearing shirts with all buttons fastened was not created in purpose to look modest. This style is a result of wearing traditional Russian shirts on the field in order not to allow the cross, worn by Christians on the chest, to get out preventing from physical labour. In other words, this tradition has its roots in comfort of peasants related to their lifestyle.

The meaning of the bow tie, which almost always accompanies the collar, depends on its measures too.

In military uniform collar can be decorated with symbols. The regime a soldier belongs to can be identified by the colour of facings, patches, and insignias appeared on collars, cuffs and tails. Prince William wore the famous tunic of an Irish Guards Officer for his marriage that took place on 29th of April, 2011. Many internet users requested Prince William’s collar’s insignia after that. This was Irish shamrock that decorated his collar. The shamrock is a three-leafed old white clover. It is known as symbol of Ireland.

This proves that collar is one of the most suitable parts of clothes where symbols can be displayed. It would be inappropriate to display symbols on the backside of trousers or on elbows because they would be hidden and easily damaged. Furthermore, such a way of displaying symbols would show disrespect for them.


In the time of Macaroni, which appeared in 1770, the style of neckwear included cravats with elegantly fringed knots, stocks, and small turnover collars on men’s coats. In that time there were popular not starched collars that did not stay rigidly and had two buttons and loops, according to Doriece Colle (1972, p.18).

Dandies, who preferred clingy-fit clothes like Macaroni, wore the black jacket, that was a foundation of men’s fashion, that had the high soft collar fashionable in the late eighteenth century. A high white stock was fashionable for the neck in that period as well.

White shirts with cutaway collars and ties with a ‘windsor’ knot feature the Edwardian suits. The high and tight collar with a V knot tie featured American Zoot suit. V-necked jumper, one of the typical elements of a traditional Anglo-derived boys’ school uniform, is widely worn at offices at least in many countries and probably all over the world, which proves formal status.

Men do not adorn themselves with jewellery as much as women do, but they have status objects such as glasses, watches, ties, cuffs, mobile phones (for example, Vertu and hostler for it with signature detail), pens, cases, purses, and pins for collars and ties. Accessories for collars such as collar tips can extend this list.


A startling collar can increase the price of garment. Many simple garments which have nothing but embellished necklines as an eye-catching detail may be found on high-fashion online stores. As it is seen from the internet market, many very simple luxury tops would be less noticed if they did not have striking necklines.

It is very important for clothes nowadays to look eye-catching as many of them are in stock on the internet, because one of the most important factors of online shopping is the image, a noticeable picture that motivates online shoppers in a short period of time.

There are too many young labels presented online, and online shoppers do not have any idea about what many of them are. Many customers even do not have time to find information on all these brands and what their clothes symbolise, if it symbolise anything. It may be enough simply to look conspicuous to motivate online shoppers, so they say: ‘I like it! I want to have it!’ If your top or jacket is displayed among hundreds of other tops and jackets which look very much like each other, one of the ways to be different is to make impact at least with the neckline design. Hardware, rhinestones, sewing accessories, pins, studs, sequins, beads, and Swarovski crystals are widely applied to contemporary neckline embellishment, but the style of embellishment can make the neckline recognisable.

Shirts of the British label Aquascutum have signature club check trim on the turned-back cuffs and collars, which is a good example of a collar as brand identity. Iconic check also is applied to their handbags and scarves.

Hawes & Curtis, established by Mr. Ralph Hawes and Mr. Freddie Curtis in 1913, created the famous spread collar to fit the unstructured tie for The Duke of Windsor - one of this century's most stylish and powerful men. This bespoke tie had a thicker inner lining in the part of the tie that formed the knot, which complemented Hawes & Curtis' Collar and was later named the ‘Windsor Knot'.

In 2011, Hawes & Curtis’s shirts had three eye-catching details – three buttons at the front, two-buttoned wings, and a contrast inner collar. Obviously, collar detail can make shirts to be more desirable than many other common shirts. If contemporary men’s clothes cannot be highly embellished, there is at least a collar detail that can make the brand to be different.

In order to make an impact, London boutiques of Anne Fontaine put on window display classic white women’s blouses which draw attention by their striking collars folded in unusual ways and decorated with contrast black trims.

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