For what is arguably the most diminutive item of clothing, the collar paradoxically holds more weight and meaning than perhaps any other sartorial choice. It’s certainly one of the most long-standing — the oxford English dictionary traces the word to c 1300.
Since then, it has come to signify a host of things — from professions, to class distinctions, to nationalities. Yet it’s their power to differentiate between classes that’s most familiar to us — that is, the “blue collar” and the “white collar,” terms which were first introduced into our lexicon in the 1910s and 1920s.
First came the birth of the term “white collar,” from which sprang forth its working class counterpart. The two colors were no random choice, but rather the ones that best suited the working conditions of the two reigning professions at the time: corporate jobs and factory jobs. As opposed to the factory workers, who were often working under grimy conditions and who had less money to spend on the laundromat, the typical businessman, safe in his pristine office, could afford all the trappings and uncertainties that came with wearing a white button-down. So too could they risk wearing more stiff and upright collars, which — as the notion went — would have been far too constricting for a factory worker. According to The Dictionary of Fashion History, “The significance of the collar restricting the free movements of the neck and thus symbolizing class distinctions persisted through several centuries.”
It’s a fact that surely made sense at the time, but seems tremendously flawed now. In my humble opinion, a narrow, confining collar has always had a discomfiting effect on me, inspiring neither confidence nor air to my lungs, much less the self-assurance and authority one must possess to hold a high position at work.
And all of this is to say nothing of the fact that collars, at the time, were reserved solely for men — whether blue or white.
Perhaps we can see the detached collar as a liberation of sorts – as an analogy for women coming into their own. That certainly wasn’t how the detachable collar started; they were first invented in the early 19th century as a means of convenience. Back then, laundry was a big to-do and since it was typically the collars that needed to be washed — and rarely the actual shirts — it was decidedly easier to detach the collars, washing them separately and more frequently. But now, with their re-appropriation in womenswear, this analogy feels wholly applicable. According to Wikipedia, “Among clothing construction professionals, a collar is differentiated from other necklines such as revers and lapels by being made from a separate piece of fabric, rather than a folded or cut part of the same piece of fabric used for the main body of the garment.” And so the collar comes into its own, not unlike a woman in the early 20th century whose identity was previously contingent on her husband’s. The collar is at once one with its garment and yet wholly distinct, and so it makes sense that it would officially liberate itself from the shirt.
And now – well, the collar is still a solid, indelible fixture in the man’s wardrobe, but equally a part of the modern day woman’s wardrobe as well. And as far as detachable collars go, I think it’s safe to say that this is territory reserved for womenswear, through and through.
No longer does the blue collar carry such negative connotations. In fact, with its new iterations — fashioned out of faux fur with a maroon trim — it’s one of the more coveted collar colors around.