The early Pennsylvania settler rode and walked about the land without the benefit of collars for the collar symbolized the conquered and fetters for those enslaved. It was a reminder of past eras which the conquered peoples of conquered lands had fetters forged around their necks, being compelled to wear them continually while in the service of others, up until they purchased or earned their freedom from slavery.
The earliest Pennsylvania settlers being mostly artisians, craftsmen, and tillers of the soil, remained unfettered and unhampered by any suggestion of serfdom or bondage about their sunburned necks. Though few who had literary or political leanings, wore a “wimple” or cravat. Even as recent as 184? One John H. Oberholtzer was excluded from council of his church, because some of the bretheren held it was wrong of him “To wear a collar on a coat.”
Paper collars were scorned at an early date because they were worn by Negro Mountebanks and wandering minstrels in the early 1800’s. The economic reason for their brief popularity was due to their inability to withstand wilting and easy soiling after which they had to be disposed of.
With the advent of the Civil War days, came the development and wear of the “Enameled Stell Collars” which could be “instant cleaned by a slight rub with a wet cloth.” Ordinary steel collars sold as low as 30 cents, but “Snow white” collars cost $1 and “illusion stitched,” set the buyer back a $1.??.
Each steel collar was in two pieces, united by a steel rivet, the rivet head made to “receive and retain” the necktie. They were truthfully advertised as “always starched, ironed, and presentable, and are bound to stand up against all the heat dampness that can be brought against them. Perspiration rolls harmlessly off them, and they can instantly be cleaned by a slight rub with a wet cloth.”
The envious wives and sweethearts could also get steel collars and cuffs to match.
There being no laundries, the beau brummel of the farm could come in from a hard day making hay, with a flick of a wet kerchief, freshen up the linen for the evening’s buggy ride with the girl, who barely found time to slosh off their own steel cuffs and collars at the pump.
Stiff collars were worn only on occasion of weddings, picture taking, dances, and visiting.
For formal affairs, whether ballroom dancing, or speech making, the most popular collar was the “Gates Ajar,” which served all purposes of propriety and left plenty of room for a loose-jointed “schlucker,” or adam’s apple. These collars were made from rubber or celluloid, the former a dull finished product and the latte a highly polished finish which could be readily washed when soiled and wore satisfactorily, until embrittled or set on fire.
It required practically two and a half centuries of self-inflicted torture, before the advent of soft attached collars giving one the sensation of feeling unfettered and out of bondage.
Beloit Deitscher ‘44
Archival Notes: I have been unable to find a photograph of a steel shirt collar, if anyone could find a photograph or example of a steel shirt collar please pass it along to email@example.com