In these difficult economic times it’s especially important to dress well. Many are losing their jobs, and sadly sometimes attire alone determines who stays and who goes. Today we’ll be talking about dress shirts- their origin and history, discuss collar types, fit, styles and appropriateness in today’s business environment.
Although a light corporate color blue should now be a staple of any man’s wardrobe, it was originally a sign of workers who did manual labor. Indeed, the term blue-collar is derived from 19th century uniform dress codes of industrial workplaces. Industrial and manual workers wear durable clothing that can be dirty, soiled, or scrapped at work. A popular element of such clothing has been, and still is, a light or navy blue work shirt.
In contrast, the adjective 'white collar' was first used by Upton Sinclair in relation to modern clerical, administrative and management workers during the 1930s. Sinclair's usage is related to the fact that, during most of the 19th and 20th centuries, male office workers in European and American countries almost always had to wear dress shirts, which had collars and were usually white.
The “banker’s collar white shirt” had its origin in the 19th century detachable collar, first invented in 1827 in Troy NY, by Mrs. Hannah Montague, a housewife who was having difficulties with her husband's "ring-around-the-collar." Her husband showed off his wife's invention to the guys around town, and soon all the wives of Troy embraced this new invention. Soon after, merchants followed suit, and manufactured collars in mass quantities for sale to the outside world. By 1897, twenty-five manufacturers in Troy were producing a total of eight million dozen collars and cuffs a year. Linen collars were offered in a breathtaking variety of styles and had become the status-symbol of the growing office-worker class (i.e. "white collar" workers). Mail order catalogs like Sears-Roebuck, Montgomery-Ward, and Bloomingdale's sent detachable collars to every part of America, along with the often colorful collarless shirts with which they were worn.
The button-down collar is an ad-hoc remedy hastily cobbled together during a "chukka" in a heated polo match in Great Britain A frustrated player realized that by ingeniously anchoring ends of his collar points with a button not only prevented their wild flailing about in his face but completely eliminated the bedeviling problem that tormented his concentration as he galloped full-speed, down-field. Oddly enough, the button-collared shirt was originally imported to the United States by Brooks Brothers. Ironically, it was intended for sale to blue collar workers.
It’s important in today’s business environment to wear crisp, professional shirts that put your best foot forward. The spread of your collar, or the gap between the points, should fit the shape of your face.
The further the points of your collar are from one another, the thinner your face should be. The closer the points are, the rounder your face should be.
But personal preference should be allowed to have some role in your decisions. For instance, I started wearing a slightly modified spread collar last summer. I think it frames my face very well, and holds a thick woven tie in place just right.
Wide spreads or even cutaways (shirts with gaps in the collar in the area where the tie is located) look great on Brad Pitt, but not so good on the rest of us. And you’re taking quite a professional risk with such a shirt, unless you own the company or are a highly paid consultant.
In this economic downturn I wouldn’t wear any kind of white collared shirt, banker or not. Likewise for spread collars beyond a medium, or modified spread. Depending on your office environment, it may not even be proper to wear button-downs. You’re best staying to the conservative points and medium spreads. For colors stick to conservative white or corporate blue.
Many “out of the box” shirts are exactly that. They are made for the average man in your size- collar size, sleeve size, body size. Problem is- what if you’re not the average man? Take for example if your shirt’s too blousy- the body’s too big. It will keep coming out of your pants and irritate you to no end.
If you can afford it, and will remain at your present size for the foreseeable future, I’d recommend investing in custom shirts. These garments tend to cost more, but you will tend to wear them more because you’ve invested the money, and because I assume you will choose something you like.
I’ve always advocated having at least 10 shirts so you can take 5 to the cleaners and have 5 to wear the next week. However, again, times are tough. You might want to learn how to launder them or find a way to barter with your girlfriend, which would only necessitate 5.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our discussion of dress shirts. The discussion of fabrics would be so lengthy that I’ve left it for next time. Enjoy you part of the stimulus, and, as always, dress well!