Vintage Evening Shirts
The full-dress shirt
(described in detail in the
White Tie section) received its nickname
“boiled shirt” for one of two reasons according to which sources you
believe. One explanation
is that the shirt had to be boiled in water to remove the copious
amount of starch used to stiffen the bosom, as well as to get the
shirt as white as possible.
The other explanation is that the shirt was dipped in boiled
starch because that is how starch used to be applied to garments
after they had been laundered.
Of course, it is possible that both accounts are correct.
Shirts were originally
constructed like nightshirts and were slipped on over the head.
Open-front shirts (aka coat-front shirts) were introduced to
menswear in the 1880s to allow for a tapered waist that was not
possible in shirts that had to be wide enough to slip over one’s
shoulders. Shirts that
opened in the back were introduced in the following decade and this
style grew in popularity for dress shirts until it was the
predominant choice in the 1930s.
This was because open-back versions had a fused bosom which
would stay perfectly smooth unlike open-front versions where the two
halves of the bosom were held together by studs and were
consequently prone to buckling and billowing.
(In open-back models the studs were purely decorative.)
In fact, open-back dress shirts continued to be manufactured
until at least the 1960s.
Example of a vintage open-back shirt. If you look
closely at the interior collar of the full-dress shirts
below you can see the seam where they button in back.
1895 patterns for "open back" shirts
(fig B & C). The tab at the bottom of the bosom is designed
to "button to the drawers"
1-button and 2-button dress shirts both with short bosoms
to allow for tall-waisted
Detail from 1932 Arrow
ad for a full-dress shirt.
for Lion brand full-dress shirt. Note the dramatic
height of the detachable collar.
Early black-tie shirt: Arrow
"Kirk" model with stiff bosom and detachable
wing collar (1933)
This shirt had
openings for easy stud insertion and an elastic band that fastens
around the back and "absolutely prevents the bosom from
This open-back full-dress shirt has
a piqué bosom and mesh body as well as adjustable back
straps for a better fit. (1933)
At first the tuxedo simply
borrowed the stiff-front shirt from full-dress but by the late 1920s
it finally received its own unique style of shirt that was more
appropriate for wear with a jacket intended only for informal
affairs. The new dinner shirt had a pleated soft front,
buttoned like a regular shirt, sported French cuffs and usually had
an attached turndown collar. In the 1930s London shirtmakers
adapted this style and created the marcella shirt, named after the
piqué pattern used for its bosom, cuffs and collar.
"Riviera" model with soft bosom and attached turndown collar
with narrow spread ('34)
Arrow "Eric" model with
soft bosom and detachable turndown collar (1934)
"Riviera" and "Eric" models again,
the latter shown this time with a wing collar (1934)
This Lion brand shirt was advertised as "a new
collar-attached dress shirt" (1935)
Arrow soft-bosomed "dinner-jacket shirt" (left) with
attached collar and stiff-bosomed "white-tie shirt" (right)
with suspender loops
on either side of the bosom to keep it centered. (1938)
As the story goes, the
detachable collar was invented in 1827 by a housewife in Troy, New
York who was tired of trying to remove the “ring-around-the-collar”
from her husband’s shirts. Having a collar that was separate
from the shirt was not only more efficient for laundering but was
also more economical as it allowed the soiled collar to be replaced
without having to buy an entirely new shirt. Initially manufactured
by hand and constructed of cotton, paper or heavily starched linen,
its popularity quickly spread to the rest of the world, particularly
among the growing class of office-workers that became known as
“white collar” workers. Detachable collars were the height of
fashion by 1862 when machines were invented to mass produce them by
laminating linen onto thick cardboard stock creating a material
known as linene. Shortly after its invention in 1870 an early
form of plastic called celluloid was interlined with the linen to
create an extremely stiff collar that could be cleaned with simple
soap and water instead of the elaborate starching and pressing
process required for the other materials.
By the turn of the century
the most popular collar styles were turndown, poke (i.e. upright or
"imperial") and wing collars. A 1903 “correct dress chart” in
The Haberdasher and Clothier dictated the former style for wear with
the informal dinner jacket and the latter two models for the
tailcoat. Like the stiff-front shirt, the hard collar became
unpopular during World War I when men became accustomed to the soft
attached collars worn with their military uniforms. According
to the Costumer’s Manifesto web site, “By the 1930's the hard collar
was only the preserve of older men and conservative dressers, except
for the wing collar for formal and evening wear.” After World
War II the detachable collar was relegated almost exclusively to
white-tie attire especially once the attached wing collar was
introduced in the 1960s (much to the dismay of purists everywhere).
|1887 dress collars.
The two at top could be considered poke collars.
An 1899 window display featuring dozens of different collar
and cuff models for sale.
Leather collar boxes were popular accessories to store and
protect detachable collars.
Detachable Bosoms and Cuffs
A dickey (alternately
spelled dicky or dickie) is a type of false shirt-front that buttons
to the collar of an evening shirt and tucks into a waistcoat or
cummerbund. Made of the same celluloid as detachable collars
and cuffs, their waterproof, wrinkle-free and stain-resistant
properties made them popular with entertainers, musicians and
waiters and consequently disdained by well-dressed gentlemen who
viewed them as the equivalent of a pre-tied bow tie. Their
extreme stiffness and tendency to pop out of place frequently made
them the subject of humor and ridicule. (Remember the old Bugs
Bunny cartoon where Bugs takes his revenge on an arrogant
Cuffs were also available in
detachable celluloid styles but did not achieve the same popularity with
formal shirts as did their collar counterparts.
While the detachable collar had the added advantage of variety of style
and suitability to different neck heights, detachable
cuffs were considered simply a way to save laundering costs which
was not supposed to be a concern for respectable gentlemen.
1912 ad for a detachable shirt bosom.
Circa 1890s ad for celluloid collars, cuffs and shirt
1912 ad for detachable shirt cuffs.