16. Collar studs, fly-buttons and elbow patches.

I was putting out the re-cycling bin the other day and realised that ‘back in the day’, nothing in that bin would have been there. Plastic had not been invented, newspapers were used for lighting the coal fire and bottles carried a deposit and were returned to the shop.

Even after I was married, my wife ‘turned’ the collars of my shirts when they became worn, by some wifely magic sewing skill I never understood. Discarding a shirt, simply because the collar was worn, was out of the financial question.Earlier in this story I mentioned darning socks and re-knitting jumpers, but I had quite forgotten separate collars.

When you see a young executive wearing a white collared – stripy shirt, he is harking back to the time when shirts and collars were two different items. The shirt itself was what these days we call a ‘grandad-shirt’. Each shirt came with two collars. Collar-studs were two discs with a short stem (‘Google’ collar-studs for images) and came in two forms; front and back. The back stud was short because it only went through the shirt and the collar; the front stud was longer as it went through two layers of shirt and the two ends of the collar. Both studs had a big disc against the skin and a small disc to go through the holes: the front small disc folded to make it easier to pass through four holes, but it was always a faff to fit them. Similarly, cuffs could be folded two ways with cuff-links instead of buttons.

I suppose the air was dirtier then and personal hygiene not such a big deal, but with two collars, a shirt could be worn for four days if each was turned the other way. Remember most men wore shirts and ties all the time. Children wore shirts as they are now and it was a ‘rite-of-passage’ when you wore your first ‘proper’ shirt as it was to ‘graduate’ to long trousers.

Shirts, and especially the collars, were ‘starched’ to make them stiff, and in doing so it made them dig into the neck uncomfortably, sometimes to the point of rawness. Wealthier folk sent their collars to a laundry in special boxes to get them starched and ironed ‘properly’. Indeed a generation earlier some people wore celluloid (an early plastic) collars, which could probably be washed by hand.

While on the subject of clothing it would be remiss, not to mention fly-buttons. I know men who still bemoan the introduction of the zip(per) fly and the demise of fly buttons as a loss of personal security. They regard the loss of one button as less of a catastrophe than the failure of the zip or the risk of personal injury.

Schoolteachers seem to have an image of wearing leather elbow patches, but everybody once wore elbow patches to reduce (or cover-up) wear. In addition the edges of the cuffs and even the vertical edges near the buttons had a folded strip of leather to extend the life of the jacket.

There must be more from a time when everybody wore hats and all trousers had turn-ups, but that’s enough for now.


6 thoughts on “16. Collar studs, fly-buttons and elbow patches.

  1. Memory-provoking as always Jim. Do you remember the Double-Top brand shirt – sold with a spare collar? They were designed to make it just a little easier to remove a collar and replace it. Of course the time came when collar-turning was rendered impossible because the underside was deliberately made different to allow for the insertion of stiffeners to prevent them from curling up at the edges. They were plain white plastic inserts originally. I thought they were always sewn in these days but I’ve just been online and discovered they are not only still sold but available in decorated or engraved metal as well as plastic! I also have a dim recollection of a fiendish sprung metal device similar to the shape of an M which you inserted behind your tie and then attached to the inside corners of the collar with the pointed ends.
    Talking of shirts: do you remember the day a mutual friend shocked us all by announcing he had bought a pink shirt?

  2. Collar design varied a lot. I remember ‘cut-away’ which had/has almost no visible points, points with removable stiffeners (that snapped if left in while washing), permanent stiffeners, long points and button-down. There was also a kind of ornate safety-pin that went behind the tie. There were tie-pins and studs to keep your tie out of the soup. Although I have only worn a tie four times in the last 14 years, I still have a large collection varying in width from ‘slim-jims’ (4 cm ) to ‘kippers’ (~12 cm) in colours and designs to make your eyes pop. A double-Windsor knot was de rigueur (but impossible for kippers). Bow ties of course MUST be self-tied!

  3. I’ve just remembered that George March, who owned the music shop in Camden Street used to sport a plastic tie, with a factory-made knot, held in place by an elastic band that went under his collar. It looked terrible. I can’t recall anyone else wearing one or ever seeing them advertised.

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