As remembered by Bob McMillan

Detachable collars

Between the late nineteenth century and mid-twentieth century, men's collars were often detachable from their shirts, connected only by two removable collar studs (one in front and one in back). Detachable collars were very stiff, and either stood straight up or were pressed over at an ironed-in, starched crease.

The collars were stiff, almost rigid. (indeed some were made from celluloid, a type of early plastic, and were moulded in to shape. Pity the poor wearer! They also turned yellow with age.)

These throw-backs to an earlier, Victorian age were made of linen, just like a good quality shirt of the period but were stiffened with a liner and heavily starched. They were stored and laundered unfolded and had to be doubled over to form the shirt collar. The two Peaks (the pointed end of each front side) were also stiffened with a Bone (a short, stiff strip of rigid material, possibly originally bone, that kept the peak flat and straight. This slotted in to a small pocket sewn in to the underside of the collar peak and had to be swapped to each new collar).

Between the stiffening liner, the fold-over of the collar and the starch used in the laundering process, the collars were almost rigid in use.

The collar shown here is the soft, or unstarched, version but the shape is the same.

The collar was attached to the shirt with two studs, one in the centre of the neck at the back and one at the front which also took the place of the top button of the shirt. Both studs had a broad head, slightly larger in diameter than a drawing pin, which was usually covered with white enamel or plastic on the surface that sat against your skin.

The back stud had a short stem with a fixed disc of about 4 mm in diameter on the end. This was inserted through a button hole in the band at the top of the shirt back (where the collar of a modern shirt would join the shirt back) from the wearers side towards the outside so that the broad head of the stud sat on the inside of the shirt band.

The shirt had no top button at the front. Instead it had a button hole on both sides. The front stud was inserted in a similar fashion to the back stud but in to one top button hole. The 4 mm disc on the end of this stud was on a pivot so that it could fold almost flat against the stem of the stud. This was necessary for getting the stud through the two layers of shirt and two layers of collar without distorting the smooth crispness of the collar.

T he front stud on left & rear stud on the right

The shirt would normally be worn without the collar until the last minute, especially if the wearer had cut himself shaving. As collars, and the laundering of them, cost money they were treated with care. Personal pride, and the housewifes pride in turning her family out all neat and tidy, meant that the collar had to be spotless and pristine every time.

With the shirt on the wearer,  the front stud was pushed through the top button hole on the second part of the shirt, thus keeping the shirt front closed. The collar, still unfolded, was attached to the back stud by pushing the 4 mm disc through a button hole in the collar. The chosen tie was placed against the bottom section of the collar (think of how you place your tie on your shirt collar today) and the top section of the collar folded down in to place. Both ends of collar were brought round to the front of the shirt and the front stud pushed through the button holes in the ends to secure the collar. It must have been like having an iron band round your neck! Now the tie could be fashioned in to the knot of the wearers choice and this covered the front stud.

My father would never go out of the house in the evening or at weekends without a collar and tie on. Even on holiday he was to be seen on the promenade at Ayr or Saltcoats in the height of summer (hmmm) in suit, collar and tie. The only concession made on holiday was to use shirts with sewn on collars rather than the removable ones.

Holidays at Ayr and Saltcoats. Note that in the height of summer (Hmm) Dad still has on not just a suit but collar, tie and pullover!

Gents underwear was usually an armless cotton vest and underpants akin to a pair of shorts. Many men still wore Long-john type underwear that went right down to the ankles or an all-in-one combination garment with arms and legs. This garment covered the body from shoulders to ankles and buttoned up the front.

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