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Collars on Boys' Shirts

Boys' collars
Figure 1.--Boys' collars in the mid-19th Century took many shape, including ruffles. They were, however, generally quite small and usually not very elaborate. They stand out from the much larger collars worn earlier and later in the decade.

Boys over the ages have worn a variety of shirt collars. Sometimes just like their dads. Other times there were special juvenile styles. Collars were often worn open, especially by younger boys in the early 19th century. Gradually as the century progressed buttoned collars became more common. By the end of the 19th century, several collar styles were worn with bows, in some cases large floppy bows. These large bows were particularly prevelent in America.

Chronological Development

The boys collars has varied substantially over time. Boys' collars like men's collars rise and fall with fashion trends. The widths and shapes of collars have fluctuated with neckwear trends. Collars in the mid-19th century tended to be very small. This contrasted with the very large collars worn in the late-19th century. The huge floppy bows worn in the late-19th century rather overwealmed all but the largest collars. In some eras, boys' collars were identical or similar to men's collars, such as 18th Century jabots or moddern buttondowns. In other times they were different, such as sailor collars and Fauntleroy lace collats. Another important collar was the Eton collars worn in the late 19th and early 20th century. These were detachable collars. After World war I boys normally wore shirts with attached collars.

Low Necklines

Shirts and waists for boys by the mid-19th century had collars or went up to the neckline. We notice a variety of garments for younger boys in the early 19th century that had low necklines without any kind of collar. These outfits included dresses, blouses, and skeleton suits and were worn bu boys both beforte and after breaching. Generally boys wore these low-neckline garments up to about age 6 years, although we hasve seen older boys wearing them, especially boys that had not yet been breached. A good example here is an unidentified American boy who had his portait painted in a skeleton suit, probably in the 1810s. We also note unidentified English children probably in the 1810s-20s.

Boys' collars
Figure 2.--This is a colorized Ambrotype, probably meaning it was taken in late-1850s. s wiyj many mid-century portraits. The shirt is covered by suit jackets, but only see the collar. Thus we do not know if it was a differentiated collar.

Differentiated Collars

We notice two types of what we call differetiated collars. There may be different terms for these collars. Hopefully ourcreaderswill know more about this topic. We notice many boys with collars done in a differet material than the rest of the shirt. Commonly these are different styles of white collars, including ruffle, as well as pointed and rounded collars. Modern blouses shirts are of course done with the collar as an integral part of the garment. Some modern colored shirts are done with white collares and some times cuffs, but this was is a stylistic measure. The shirts we see with white collars in the 19th century were done like this primarily as a laundry measure. Laundry without machines and modern detergents was an onerous, labor intensive activity. And as the collar was the part of the shirt that got dirty fastest, it w easiet tob have a white collar added to the shirt rather than made as part of the shirt. White material could be laundered easier thn colored material because bleach could not be added. There are different types of these duiffeentiated cillars, sewn-on, inned-on, and detachable. Ruffs were a specialized form.

Collar Styles

Boys' fashions have included a wide variety of collar styles. The collar was one one of the most important features of boyhood clothes. It was use as an age differentiation accessory. A boy might wear a ruffled collar and large bow with a suit, but then to show his growing maturioy wear the same suit with an Eton cvollar. It is now much less common. Important collar styles have included: buttoned down, Eton, lace, Peter Pan, Pilgrim, ruffled, sailor and many others. Many of these styles have persisted for long periods. Some have evolved from military styles. Some have been worn by girls and women, while others have evolved from men's styles. Some have been first worn by boys and then appropriated for girls' wear. Some of these collars, especially Etons were detachable collars, others always worn as an integral part of a shirt or blouse.


A dickey (alternativeky spelled "dickie") is a garment that looks like the front of a collar or shirt, but is worn as a separate garment. There are many different types of dickies. Some were just small front pieces. Others were jacket like vests. Others were "T"-shirt like garments or turtle-neck shirts for cold weather wear. The dickie most associated with boys' wear is the sailorsuit dickie, but other dickies have also been worn and children's dickies are still available. They modern dickies are primarily worn for cold weather. An example is a knitted dickie which is a collar piece extending just down enough to serve as a kind of scarve. Some are done like sleeveless weaters. Dickies were also used as ceremonial dress by military units. This was of course not common for boys' wear, but may have been used by some youth groups.


Fashion advisors maintain that collars are "strategic frames" for the face. Most fashion experts report that for the best results, collars should be matched to theindividual's bone structure and neck size. Individuals with a narrow face look best with a high collar of moderate spread. Such individuals should avoid long collars worn with narrow ties. Individuals with a broad face and full neck look best in a low collar just covering the collar bone. Such individuals look good with regular or straight point collars. Of course mothers often have chosen collars that correspond to popular fashions rather thjan those that are best suited to theie sons.

Color and Patterns

White collars were very common in the 19th and early-20th century. This was especially the case for the detachable collars that appeared in the mis-19th century. We are not entirely sure why white was so popular. Fashion may have been a factor. Laundry was another factor. The collar wasthe part of the shirt that soiled the most readily. White clothes were the easiest to launder because bleech could be used. Bleach of course could spoil colored or patterned clothes and collars. The laundry problem is why detachable collars became so common. Laundry was a major problem in the 19th and early-20th century because laundry soaps and mechanical washers were not available. Women commonly had to devote an entire day to launfdry and people wore clothes longer without washing because laundry was such a drugery. While white was the nost common, we do see some colored and patterned collars. A good example of patterened collars are the collars worn by two of the Harper boys


A shirt expert suffests that when selecting a shirt, the boy's collar size should be measured just below the Adam's Apple with one finger slipped inside the tape. This results in a smart look with a collar that is firm on the neck, but very comfortable and which he will not quickly outgrow.

Boys' collars countries
Figure 3.--Collars could be quite varied in the 19th century, Here we see a lace asnd a Eton collrs, we think about 1880. The Fauntleroy Craze in the United Stares resulted in especially elasborate collars.

Country Trends

The collar is the modern fashion element growing out of the medival chemise. This of course was before the develoment of dedicated juvenile styles. We have done considerable work on the collar in children's fashions. We have begun to collect individual country pages describing country trends. So far we have pages on America, England, France, and Germany. There are of course many similarities. The basic types and styles of collars were much the same in different countries. We do notice some destinctive national features. Some styles are especially associated with specific countries. England seems especially important in the developent of mny boys' collar stles, the most prominently the Eton and sailor collar, both styles were important for decades. America helped populasrize the Fauntleroy collar, but this was of much shorter duration. The Shiller collar, a kind of sports collar was popular in Germany.


Collars were commonly used in the late 19th century as age specific clothing. Thus as a boy got older the style of the collar he wore with his suit changed significantly with his age. As a boy grew older he progressed to different styles of both suit and collar. This was common through much of the 19th and early 20th century. The conventions here were widely accepted in America and throughout Europe. There were some differences in the collar styles popuklar in different countries and over time. We note that some boys wore the same suit for several years, but the type of collar and neckwear was changed as he got older. There are numerous examples of this archived on HBC. We note other conventions such as the buttoning the collar even when not wearing neckwear.


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Created: May 25, 1998
Last updated: 11:28 PM 10/1/2022