Around His Neck

   So in our last two installments, we considered the mockery postcard cartoonists made of two items of women’s fashion in the 1905-1915 era: the hobble skirt and the picture hat.  Can we have the same wild and crazy time considering men’s fashion of the period?

   Well, if you look at that first picture, you can see the problem.  The lady (let’s be courteous) is rather definitely of a particular time, but the man’s outfit doesn’t give us quite so many cues.  True, the hat would raise a few eyebrows nowadays, and I have never actually, in my lifetime, seen a person sincerely and without being part of a costume, wear a pince nez (those pinch-nose glasses.)  Still, if you look closely enough, there is one detail that DOES set him apart, and which cartoonists made great use of.

   And that is his collar.  For much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was possible to buy a shirt with only a small stub of a collar.  This made it possible for a man to wear the same shirt for a week and still look fresh and clean, simply by changing collars.  (Clean cuffs could be acquired the same way.)  These are now worn primarily by the clergy, by courtroom attorneys in England, and with certain types of elegant evening dress, but once upon a time, they were the choice for everyday wear  for men who wanted to save money by owning a small number of shirts but a large number of collars.    There was no particular shame to this, so collars did not pretend to be part of the shirts they rode above.  They were white, starched, and often rather high, as cartoonists liked to notice.

   To make this work, of course, one had to have a variety of collars.  (As in the old song: You wear the prettiest ties and collars; whereabouts do you get the dollars?)  Only the especially stingy would limit themselves, as in this card, where his wife is asking him if he’s sure he checked for his collar studs in BOTH of his collars.  (Collars were held in place by studs, which are remembered in literature largely as something a man would lose at critical moments., though some writers remember the joyful POP sound made when pushing a stud into a newly-starched collar.)

   One could indulge in a variety of styles: since a collar was meant to be worn once and then washed and restarched, you could have the points doing especially notable things at parties, as in the next card.  (Um, I was referring to the collar points of the man on the left.  I do not know quite what the man on the right is up to, but the comic photography of J. Murray Jordan is material for a whole nother blog.)

   The greatest glee of the cartoonists, however, was simply building up that collar as part of a general character study.  We have the stiff collar of the well-dressed but clueless young man, in this limerick card.

   Here we observe the collar of the man who is trying to dress up a face and figure that can’t be helped.

   And here the artist gives us the fashion of the poseur, the young man so full of himself he knows he must dazzle all eyes, the young man who is the embodiment of the pronoun “I”.  As for some reason while looking him over I suddenly thought of people who blog, I believe I will leave you to a contemplation of the detachable collar and go do something else for a while.

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