Friday, March 23, 2012

Going the Distance: Quick Fixes-White Collars

This section is focused on things you can do to update your existing wardrobe to make it more accurate. These suggestions are all things that I believe can be inexpensively and easily done, and can immediately take your visual impression to the next level of accuracy. A few of the suggestions will be elaborated upon in the following posts, because they relate to fabric and silhouette choices that are complex in their historical context. I have written this section with the beginning re-enactor in mind: someone who has been given or purchased a dress and accessories and wishes to improve them until she can make (or have made) an accurate dress of her own.

White Collars: The overwhelming majority of women during the period wore white collars with their dresses. These were not only decorative, but highly functional as well. Collars served to protect the dress from the dirt and oils of the body. They were removable which meant that they could be easily washed of the dirt and oils they picked up. When one thinks of the laundering practices of the 1860s, one can easily see why a woman would rather wash a few collars than a few dresses! Collars were often basted or pinned into a dress, and could be switched out between dresses.


If you look at the images in the day dresses category of Anna Allen’s website, you will note that most of the collars are THIN. Many measure less than 2” in depth. In the 1840s and 50s, WIDE collars were fashionable. So choosing a wide collar in the 1860s would have instantly dated you as being “out of fashion” to the contemporary eye. They are often of plain white cotton (or sometimes linen), sometimes embroidered (again in white—known as whitework or broderie anglaise) or with a lace edging (like whitework or a net lace). Full lace collars are much rarer, and if they are lace, they are very fine.

Plain jewel collar.

Collars of the 1860s come in generally two styles: a “jewel” collar that lays flat around the neck, and a stand up collar that stands up from the neckline of the dress. Stand up collars sometimes had an "outer" collar made of the dress fabric. This was a permanent feature of the dress, but was still always worn with a white collar underneath. Collars tend to be front opening, following the front opening of the dress.
Outer collar of dress fabric with inner white collar.
White stand up collar.
Jewel collar with fancy edge.

There are only a few exceptions where collars were NOT worn: with some sheer summer dresses and with wide-necked dresses like ball gowns or children’s dresses. The only time colored collars seem to be worn was during deep mourning, when a black crepe collar would have been chosen. There is little evidence suggesting collars were ever of the same fabric as the dress.
Black collar for mourning.
Sheer dress without collar.

Collars are very easy to make. If your dress pattern does not include a collar pattern, Kay Gnagey has relatively inexpensive patterns to make them:

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