Friday, September 2, 2016

What happened to banded collar shirts?

 One of the two banded collar shirts I have.  Ironically, this shirt was made by the Arrow Shirt Company.

Up until at least the end of World War Two, banded, or "collarless" shirts were a relatively common item for men, in some places.

Not equally in all countries at all times, however.  They were less common in the United States, but they weren't uncommon at all early in the 20th Century and in some places into mid century.  Now, they're sort of hard to find, and when you do find them, they can be really expensive.  It's weird.  It's too bad as well, as I really like them.

As recently as last year, the Wall Street Journal declared that "band collar" (collarless, banded collar, they're all the same thing) was the shirt for the summer.  Stated the Journal:
When the heat closes in, men want chill-out clothing. That’s why a shirt that’s shed its stifling collar—aka a ‘band-collar’ shirt—might be the most important piece of the season.
Well, if so, it'd be nice if a person was able to find one around here.

The Journal tapped right into the history of the shirt, partially, and that goes where I want to go a bit here as well.  The Journal observed:
Though the breezily incomplete look also enjoyed a vogue in the bohemian 1970s, its roots go back to the era when collars were starchy, detachable things that men fastened to a basic collarless shirt to appear properly dressed. (The advantage: You could just launder the collars while rewearing a shirt a few times.) That so many contemporary designers are now marketing such shirts to be worn on their own speaks to the steady casualization of modern men’s style. First went the tie, now goes the collar. “Guys just aren’t wearing ties as much,” said Mr. Olberding. “And with a band collar, it’s the anti-tie shirt. You just simply can’t wear [a tie].”
Yep, exactly right (but wait, it's a bit more complicated than that actually).  Hence the scarcity of the shirt type as well. 

While the thought of rewearing a shirt, rather than a collar, probably would strike a modern audience as gross, the Journal is right on. We've dealt with it at length in another post, but before the invention of the modern washing machine, people re-wore clothes. They had fewer clothes, they wore quite a bit of wool, and they didn't wash things nearly as often. Frankly, people could do that today, it would not raise a might stench like you might suppose, but people generally don't do that.  I, for one, will toss an Oxford cloth work shirt in the laundry pile after I wear it at a work for one day.  I could, I'm sure, get away with hanging it back up and pressing it for a second, or third, go, but I don't.

But if I had to wash it by hand, I might. And therefore, back in the day, it was easier and practical to have a starched collar that I'd launder first.  Collars get dirty.  And the shirt cold keep on keeping on.  When I was home and not wanting to wear the collar I'd detach it, which of course would give the shirt its casual look by default right then.

 Drew Clothing  Company advertisement for collars, April 1913.  Man, who hasn't had these problems?

When I say "I'd launder", I should note that I mean I'd likely send the collars to the laundry.  Indeed, some laundries advertised this very service.  For example, when Lusk Wyoming had a new laundry come in, prior to World War One, it specifically advertised washing and starting collars.

This small building in Wheatland, Wyoming is still in use.  A newer sign above the door says "Coin Operated Laundry", so perhaps its still in its original use, although presumably not as a "steam laundry".  Its location is just off of the rail line, which was likely a good location for a laundry, although this is a surprisingly small structure, much smaller than the laundry in Lusk was. Anyhow, while we think of laudrimats as being the domain of students and apartment dwellers today, prior to the invention of the washing machine they were a big deal for regular people.  From Painted Bricks.
Indeed, that laundries would  advertise such a service says a lot about the state of washing prior to the invention of the household washing machine.  Most people don't send routine washing to the laundry unless they live in an apartment or are students. But at that time, they did quite often, as the alternatives were basically non existent. Today, quite a few businessmen and women still retain the practice of having their shirts laundered, I should note, and indeed I do (something I adopted after I got married for some reason, as I used to launder all my shirts myself, but after we had kids, it seemed to be a chore I was happy to omit. . . maybe some things don't change as much as we think).  Laundries were so important at the time that they are specifically given a priority in the state's laws on water appropriation.
41-3-102. Preferred uses; defined; order of preference.
(a) Water rights are hereby defined as follows according to use: preferred uses shall include rights for domestic and transportation purposes, steam power plants, and industrial purposes; existing rights not preferred, may be condemned to supply water for such preferred uses in accordance with the provisions of the law relating to condemnation of property for public and semi-public purposes except as hereinafter provided.
(b) Preferred water uses shall have preference rights in the following order:
(i) Water for drinking purposes for both man and beast;
(ii) Water for municipal purposes;
(iii) Water for the use of steam engines and for general railway use, water for culinary, laundry, bathing, refrigerating (including the manufacture of ice), for steam and hot water heating plants, and steam power plants; and
(iv) Industrial purposes.
(c) The use of water for irrigation shall be superior and preferred to any use where water turbines or impulse water wheels are installed for power purposes; provided, however, that the preferred use of steam power plants and industrial purposes herein granted shall not be construed to give the right of condemnation

Detachable collars got their start early in 19th Century and by mid century they were fairly common. This isn't to suggest that their use was universal, which would not be true.  It was never true. But it became common.  Men bought banded collar shirts and detachable collars. Sometimes they also bought detachable cuffs.  When the collars were dirty, they were boiled and restartched, and then buttoned back onto the shirt. That way a person could have both a clean collar, and one that was incredibly stiff. Such shirts were, of course, worn with ties.

I've never seen anything directly linking it in, but I strongly suspect that the banded collar shirt, at least of this type, was  partial victim of the laundry machine. Again, while we've dealt with the revolutionary device, the washer, before, its impact on things was so significant that it's ignored, and of course, when people want to talk about revolutionary machines, they want to talk about Computers, or Enigma Machines, not washers and dryers.  But people ought to take a second look.  Just as it was Maytag, not Rosie the Riveter, that took women out of a mandatory domestic role, good old Maytag attacked the banded collar shirt and defeated it.

Collars on shirts had been around, of course, for a long time.  But as noted, if you were working in an office and wearing a clean white shirt, that collar wouldn't look so clean for so long.  But with the washing machine things changed.

Indeed, the fact that the changed is illustrated nicely by the history of Cluett Peabody & Company, a collar manufacturing firm. As washing machines began to come in during the 1920s, their fortunes declined. The reason was that the demand for dress shirts with attached collars increased and the shirt with the collar began to supplant the banded collar shirt.  Cluett Peabody and Company, thinking it over, figured a way out of the problem by 1929. The Arrow Collar Shirt.

 Arrow collar ad, 1907.  The fellow with the checkered touring cap is wearing an Arrow collar, to the apparent distress of the fellow with the starched white collar in the background.   The fellow to the left appears non pulsed and I fear a duel may break out latter.  All of the collars in this 1907 advertisement are likely of the detachable type except for hte arrow collar.

Now, in fairness, Americans have always had a stronger attachment to the collared shirt than seemingly Europeans did, and collared shirts no doubt made up the majority of shirts in the US, even taking the position of collarless shirts in certain roles that banded shirts did in Europe.  The US was a heavily rural nation up until the mid 20th Century and as a result, most men didn't have a real pressing need for s starched collar on a daily basis and instead wore a collared shirt.  Indeed, Americans always wore a lot of conventional collared shirts as dress shirts even in the starched collar era.

 Theodore Roosevelt, 1910.  This photo was originally posted on our Caps, Hats, Fashion and Preceptions of Decency and being Dressed. In this photo a very formally dressed Roosevelt is wearing a spread collar shirt, a type that's still in common use.
Theodore Roosevelt in 1914, in three piece wool suit and tie,with a spread collar shirt.  This photo is also from our Caps, Hats, Fashion and Preceptions of Decency and being Dressed thread.
Indeed, the recent idea we've picked up from television that everyone in the 19th Century, including folks like cowboys, were wearing banded collar shirts is simply wrong.  Sure, you'd see a banded collar shirt out on the plains occasionally, but that's because that fellow was pressing a dress shirt into that service for some reason.  More likely, cowhands would be found with collared shirts.  Indeed, a favorite shirt of the 19th Century cowhand was the collar U.S. Army shirt introduced for frontier service after the Civil War.

Actor Francis X. Bushman wearing an Arrow collar and subtly smirking in 1917.  Maybe he was smirking as he knew that US troops were fighting in collared shirts under their service coats, while Tommies were wearing banded collared shirts.  Or not.

We have to add here, however, that Europeans, and those on the British Isles in particularly, seemingly picked up a fondness for banded collared work shirts in a way that we here in North America never did, and that does complicate this story a bit. Well, more than a bit, sort of.  Anyhow, Europeans adopted banded collared shirts in the early industrial era, and they spread to all sorts of workmen fairly quickly, in a way that in the US might rival the collared chambray shirt.  This lead to a sort of shirt called the "Granddad Shirt" that's particularly associated with Ireland for some reason, but which was really the working man's shirt of Great Britain up until after World War Two.  The British working man's use of the shirt (and the Irish use of it) was very widespread, and they even were adopted into official use by the British Army as the service shirt that went under the service blouse, which was a light blue shirt at first, and all the way through World War One, but which became an olive (or khaki, in British parlance) by World War Two.

 Arrow made shirts and collars both, as this 1920 advertisement in Powell attest to.

That's telling as well, as the U.S. Army, unlike European armies, never went for banded collared shirts.  It did issue one mid 19th Century, but that shirt was an undergarment meant for field use, not for outerwear.  After the Civil War, when the hot conditions of the West meant that solders were stripping down to shirtsleeves, the Army started issuing a collared shirt that could be worn without the service coat.  (As an aside, the routine wear of wool coats in most conditions in the Civil War must have made summer service beastly hot.).

 Detail from Edgar Paxon's remarkable Custer's Last Stand.  The incredibly detailed painting is incredibly accurate, including its depicition of cavalrymen fighting in blue wool shirts (stained reddish due to dust) and wearing flannel shirts underneath them.  At this time, in one minor error, the issue flannel shirt worn under the blue shirt was gray.

Federalized National Guardsmen at the time of the Punitive Expedition, from the earlier thread on hats.  The U.S. Army was downright odd at the time in having a shirt that could be worn like these New York National Guardsmen are wearing it. . . alone with no service coat.  This was likely a remnant of the Frontier Era when soldiers commonly omitted the coat during the summer months.

European armies, in contrast, sometimes issued banded collar shirts in that role, and did for a really long time.  The British in particular did..  Not all retained them the same length of time, but the British, as noted, issued a wool, banded collar, shirt for wear underneath its service jacket all the way through World War Two, although it was of the "granddad" variety we otherwise discuss in this thread.

American workmen, quite frankly, tended towards collared shirts also, as they were buying shirts to work in, not to double as nice dress shirts. Those shirts may in fact have so doubled, but that doesn't mean that they gave priority to the dress shirt. Europeans, or at least the British, were otherwise wearing banded collared shirts anyway.
As arrow collars were rising in the workplace, supplanting banded collars, a couple of other competitors came in too to really do in the banded collar shirt.  The big victor was the button down collar.  It came in during the 19th Century in the United Kingdom, but not as a dress item. It was worn by polo players to keep the collar down in hard play.  Obviously the polo shirt was somewhat different at the time.  In the 1896, however, Brooks Brothers, the famous clothiers, took note of them and introduce dress shirts that buttoned down, which is why Brooks Brothers still refers to them as a "polo collar", basically claiming pride of place in their introduction.  Oxford cloth button down shirts became so dominant over time in men's wear that they nearly define business dress, and even business casual and casual.  This was so much so that the early comedy lp of Bob Newhart, who had been accountant, could be titled The Button Downed Mind of Bob Newhart with no explanation being needed.  You see button down Oxfords everywhere, every day.

Some time in this same era tab collars and tie bars also came in, which served the same purpose, but in a way that retains a more formal appearance.  A tie bar holds the knot of the tie forward and, quite frankly, gives it a certain spiffy appearance as accented by the gold or silver tie bar.  Tie bars had become sufficiently widespread by the early 20th Century such that British officers routinely wore tie bars for that purpose by World War One, as the British had, by that time, introduced an opened collared service coat for officers and collared shirt, with tie, for them.  When the US did the same in 1923, wearing of tie bars by American officers was also common.  Every once in a while you'll see a shirt with pin holes manufactured in it for a specialized type of tie bar, although that's rather rare.  Anyhow, tab collared shirts had a tab that buttoned behind the tie knot that did the same thing, which also aided in the spiffy appearance.  I'll confess to having a couple of tabbed collared shirts in my collection, although as I've aged (becoming I find, more and more like my father in these regards) I tend to dress up nicely for work less often, which is something I likely should address.  And I'll admit to having had several tie bars as well, although never more than one at a time.  I lose them.

By the 1920s, stiff starched collars were on their way out, and also with them the banded collared shirt in the US.  Daily armor, for some reason, of the working man and man in the field (both the agricultural field and the field of war) they kept on keeping on in the British Isles.  But after the war they died away there too.  Perhaps they were just too old fashioned.

Well, while they've waned, they've never really disappeared entirely.  They revived a bit in the 1960s, in the counter culture era, as a hip alternative to a shirt that could take a tie, and then they nearly vanished again. But they are back now, both here and in Europe.  Here, as the Wall Street Journal relates, they've become a cool shirt that's an alterntaive to a button downed Oxford, and I've seen quite a few of them worn as dress shits even with sports coats.  Sometimes with full suits, giving a sort of cool, if not somewhat Middle Eastern, appearance.  But they sure aren't cheap, as the journals listing of available shirts reveals:
From left: Michael Bastian Shirt, $425,; Boglioli Printed Shirt, $375, Barneys New York, 212-826-8900; Half Raglan Shirt, $198,; 1883 Poplin Shirt, $195, Hamilton Shirts, 713-264-8800.
If you are paying $425 for a shirt, man, you are paying too darned much.

The always amusing J. Peterman Catalog lists a couple as well, with its fantastic short story form advertising copy. Consider, for example, the "Gatsby Shirt".
Gatsby was amazing. He even managed to see to it that the book about him was regarded as a novel, as pure fiction, as though he didn’t exist.
Even Fitzgerald, by the time he was through writing it, believed he’d made the whole thing up.
There were those who knew the truth all along, of course; knew everything except where all that money came from. (Even by today’s standards, when millions mean nothing, only billions matter, Gatsby was incomprehensibly rich.)
Gatsby walked into rooms wearing a shirt with no collar. Even a little thing like that made people talk. And probably will still do so.
Our uncompromising replica of Gatsby’s shirt has the same simple band collar. The placket is simpler, also narrower. The cotton we have used is so luminous, in and of itself, that even a person who notices nothing will notice something.
Gatsby, of course, could afford stacks of these shirts — rooms of them. Never mind. All that matters is that you have one, just one. A piece of how things were.
What a hoot.

The protagonist of Fitzgerald's novel, of course, would have worn banded collar shirts, probably, unless he was wearing one of the up and coming Arrow Collars. But he sure would have worn a starched collar with him, in that heavily tied era.  Indeed, in that era of rebellion the young were dressing up, not down, and women had affected the tie, dressing with starched collars themselves.  Indeed, the irony, perhaps, of that era so long ago is that men and women's dress, amongst the fashionable, came about as close to resembling each other as they ever would, something that perhaps those in perpetual angst over such topics should consider.

The Peterman outfit charges $89 for its Gatsby shirt, but only $69 for its "Irish Pub Shirt", which is a Granddad Shirt.  The ad copy is just as delightful, however.
It’s Friday night at the Hog & Fool, a 200-year-old pub off O’Connell Street in Dublin. World headquarters for conversation.
Dark mahogany walls. Lean-faced men. Ruddy-faced women.
The bursts of laughter aren't polite, but real, approaching the edge of uncontrollability.
The stories being told are new, freshly minted, just for you, my dear. There is no higher honor.
The room roar is high (but still, not as bad as in certain New York restaurants where you can’t make out what it is you just said).
These Irishmen, in collarless Irish shirts, under dark herringbone vests and tweed caps, have managed to keep their mouths shut all week, saving up the good stuff for now, for Friday night, for this very place, for this very moment...
How could one single city possibly give birth to Yeats, Shaw, Joyce, Wilde, Beckett... and all those here tonight as well?
Again, what a hoot.  And at least $69 approaches affordability, which $89, after shipping, doesn't, in my cheap view. Which is the same problem afflicting Orvis' Granddad shirt, which otherwise looks pretty nice.

Well, would that a person could find one locally.  You can't.

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