A History of Tunic Shirts and Detachable Collars

The long list of names of the tunic shirt and its band collar tell a great deal about its storied history. At various points over the last couple of centuries they might have been referred to as grandad shirts, collarless shirts, mandarin collar shirts, Nehru collared shirts, cadet collars, clerical collars, Roman collars, standing collars or choker collars, among many others.

Some versions of the detachable collar’s history involve a sensible-sounding lady named Hannah Montague living in Troy, New York. In 1827, after presumably getting behind with the laundry, she realised the most visible part of her husband’s shirt, the collar, was also the dirtiest part. She snipped the collar off the shirt, washed just the collar, reattached it with a couple of buttons and sent him on his way looking, if perhaps not smelling, sparkling clean and fresh. Possibly influenced by this lady, a local businessman, the Reverend Ebenezer Brown, commercialised the idea and started paying local women to sew detachable linen collars which he sold in his shop. These took off to the extent that Troy became known as “Collar City”.

Keeping even these detachable collars clean, starched, pressed, polished and curled was difficult for some. After the invention of plastic later in the 19th century, easy-clean celluloid and even rubber collars started to be sold, though they were looked down on by those with more time and money to spare.

Another money-saving option was a detachable paper collar covered in linen but unfortunately this couldn’t be washed at all. The Victoria and Albert Museum’s Textiles and Fashion Collection refers to The Nahob (1864), a novel by Alphonse Daudet, which “described a petty clerk who, not wishing to appear to 'lack shirts', spends days making his own collars, cuffs and shirt fronts in paper to give the impression that he has 'impeccably white shirts ... even if at the slightest movement - when he walked or sat - they crinkled around him as though he had a cardboard box in his stomach'.

As new inventions made washing clothes easier and cheaper, the need for detachable collars in everyday life slowly waned. Certain professions, including the legal profession and clergy, and some academic institutions, retained more traditional dress and often still wear tunic shirts with separate collars today. 

In a legal setting, the detachable collar allows barristers to wear two types of shirt in one day. A tunic shirt can be worn with a "day collar" outside court to look like a regular shirt and then exchanged for a "wing collar" with bands inside court. These changes are facilitated by studs which attach the collars to the shirt.

While detachable collars remain useful to barristers in court, we suspect the demand for rubber and paper collars for non-barristers has diminished substantially.

Our selection of tunic shirts can be found here 

Our selection of detachable collars can be found here

Our selection of collar studs can be found here


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