II. Style and Substance // The Look and Feel of Paper

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Bottom of a pasteboard collar box sold by William E. Lockwood in Philadelphia, mid-1860s. The label illustrates his range of offerings. (Courtesy of the Winterthur Library, Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Collection 269)

By 1866, paper collars came in all of the fashionable styles of the times, and their manufacturers invested in advertising the array of choices. That year, S. W. H. Ward of New York offered a basic assortment: There was a standing collar—popular throughout the century—that rose stiffly up the neck. There were also two turnover types, which were folded down as most men’s collars are today. And there was another that turned down only near the tips, a hint at the winged style that emerged later, in the 1870s, and that survives in modern tuxedo collars.

Advertisement for S. W. H. Ward's paper collars. Harper's Weekly (

Advertisement for S. W. H. Ward’s paper collars. Harper’s Weekly, 2 June 1866.

William E. Lockwood in Philadelphia promoted an even fuller selection on the bottoms of his pasteboard collar boxes. There were the English A and English B, the Byrons A through C, and several variants of the standing d’Orsay. As with Ward’s Piccadilly and Shakespeare, the naming was no accident. Besides the fact that heroic monikers spoke to buyers’ cultural aspirations, these offerings were distinct models. Individual branding mattered less when clothing lasted several years between purchases, but paper collar supplies needed constant replenishing. “Ah, yes, I wear the Piccadilly,” one could easily recall, or, “I wish to try a half-dozen of the d’Orsay.”

Materials also varied. When S. C. Fay of Boston moved from the wholesale business into manufacturing around 1865, he requested samples of paper stock from a variety of suppliers. The swatch shown here shows an embossed finish, made to resemble the texture of linen, that became almost ubiquitous in the industry. Not surprisingly, Fay negotiated with his suppliers over weights and qualities of paper as he sought to balance strength with economy.

Across the river in Cambridge, the Reversible Collar Company offered cuffs in two grades in 1869. The Hercules was lined with cotton muslin for reinforcement, but, for more money, the Snow Flake model was made of better paper on the outside and lined with cambric, a linen fabric of superior strength. Not all collars and cuffs incorporated cloth in the first place, but when it did turn up, its role was to reinforce the paper. In fact, Reversible Collar and other makers would laminate it between two plies of paper so that, when the outer part became soiled, one could turn it inward and start fresh with the other side.

Business correspondence with swatch of embossed collar paper attached, 19 December 1866. S. C. Fay of the Bay State Paper Collar Company, Boston, had solicited the sample from Gilman Brothers, a paper supplier in Nashua, New Hampshire. (Courtesy of the Winterthur Library, Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Collection 269)

Of course, there was reason to think twice about the reversible model, however durable it may have been. Appleton’s Journal recoiled in 1870 at “the practice, on the part of some people, of turning the dirty side of their make-believe linen inward—a habit too disgusting almost to mention.” The truth of paper collars is that they occupied an ambivalent middle ground when it came to personal cleanliness.

Hygiene standards were on the rise by the 1850s, in part because scientific knowledge of the body was advancing. One popular guide, billed as “a pocket manual of republican etiquette,” advised daily bathing and a frequent change of linens, as “it avails little to wash the body if we inclose it the next minute in soiled garments.”

Trade card for Babbitts Best soap, 1870s. Throughout the last quarter of the century, B. T. Babbitt advertised under the slogan "Cleanliness is the scale of civilization." (Courtesy of the Trustees of the Boston Public Library, Print Department)

Trade card for Babbitts Best soap, 1870s. Throughout the last quarter of the century, B. T. Babbitt advertised under the slogan “Cleanliness is the scale of civilization.” (Courtesy of the Trustees of the Boston Public Library, Print Department)

Paper collars cut both ways. On one hand, they were invented on the principle that cheap and disposable materials made it possible to change them regularly. But as improvements throughout the 1860s and 1870s made them increasingly durable, frugal consumers were drawn to the economy of wearing them for as long as they would hold out. Collars, cuffs, and shirt-fronts that detached from the body of the shirt also had larger implications for personal grooming. It was no coincidence that these detachable parts were the only parts not concealed by a waistcoat and jacket. By keeping these extremities relatively tidy, one could give the appearance of cleanliness without regularly changing the shirt itself. And indeed this seems to have been a common practice.

 

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