Tag Archives: collar

The clerical collar

7 Nov

Last night, I attended a scotch tasting dinner with a room full of Jesuit priests. I’m not religious but I do drink, and assuming this would be an opportunity that may never present itself again,  I went. Between dinner courses, highland dancing, speeches, and four very different scotches, I noted the clothing of the Jesuit brothers and thought about their collars, why they exist, how they work, and what they’re made of.

Evolution of the clerical collar

The white collar worn by clerics of the Anglican, Methodist, Eastern Orthodox, Baptist, Lutheran, and the Roman Catholic church, speaks a visual language that everyone recognizes. Some say the white band is a symbol of a person’s holy calling, others that the clergy carry on the tradition of differentiating themselves from the laity – non-priests or clergy of a religious faith.

Thomas Chalmers, 19th century minister and leader of the Church of Scotland, displays a clerical cravat with tabs.

Thomas Chalmers, 19th century minister and leader of the Church of Scotland, displays a clerical cravat with preaching bands.

According to Dr. Timothy R. LeCroy in A Short History of the Wearing of Clerical Collars in the Presbyterian Tradition, the clergy adopted the dress of academics (i.e. black robes) during the Reformation, and after a while, added a distinctive white neck cloth (the cravat) to differentiate themselves. By the 17th and 18th centuries, clergy tied their cravats into bows or added “preaching bands”. These instantly recognizable pieces are still worn by some priests, pastors, and Canadian lawyers wear the same item with their court robes, but call them “tabs”. 

In Vestments and Clericals Reverend Kenneth W. Collins explains that “the Protestant clergy had been wearing white preaching bands for quite some time; [the clerical collar creator, Rev. Dr. Donald] McLeod combined them with the detachable collar that was in use at the time.”

McLeod was a 19th century Scottish Presbyterian who developed the stiff and narrow clerical collar we know it today. During the middle of the century, most men wore stiff, detachable linen collars, and McLeod used these as the base for the updated clerical collar. However, before the collar took its modern form, there was a Catholic influence to be mixed in.

Catholic cassocks

Catholic priests wearing cassocks.

Catholic priests wearing cassocks.

After the Reformation, councils of the Catholic church deemed that priests wear cassocks. Cassocks, or vestis talaris in Latin, are black, ankle length robes with deep skirts. Cassocks derive from early “closed clothing” of ancient Rome and into the Byzantine and early Christian periods; the tunica tolaris was an ankle length garment, tube-like and closed up the sides.

In his very interesting article, Why Priests Wear Black, Father William Saunders explains that the sash, or cincture worn around the waist of the cassock represents chastity, the colour black, poverty, and the square Roman collar, obedience.

Wikipedia says that the white square of on the clergy’s collar is there to mimic the collar of a cassock, but I’m not sure this is true. 

Reverend Collins says the Roman Catholic church adopted the clerical collars after McLeod’s creation, and themselves modified it into the tab-collar style. So there’s that.

Charles Hodge, Presbyterian theologian, in what will later become the clerical collar.

Charles Hodge, a 19th century Presbyterian theologian, wears the upturned shirt collar that will later become the modern clerical collar.

In Clerical Dress and Insignia of the Roman Catholic Church, Reverend Henry McCloud states that the collar “was nothing else than the shirt collar turned down over the cleric’s everyday common dress in compliance with a fashion that began toward the end of the sixteenth century. For when the laity began to turn down their collars, the clergy also took up the mode.”

After the Second Vatican Council in 1967, the Catholic Church adopted a plain black suit and the clerical band collar, as the cassock waned in popularity. For some reason, the clerical collar is commonly (and mistakenly) associated with the Catholic clergy, though the collar is worn by Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and clergy of other faiths.

Modern clerical collars

Slip in collar.

Slip in collar.

Father Alex sat at my table at the scotch tasting, and I asked him about his shirt and collar. The collar was shallow and sturdy with the fronts stitched down in a “tunnel” fashion to hold the strip of white collar that he pulled out of his shirt to show me. Somehow I was disappointed to see that it was a piece of plastic, but the concept was interesting. He said the old collars were made of starched linen.

There are different styles of collars available, as shown here. Below is the tonsure collar that is a full band version of the slip in, and the Vicar’s or dog collar.

For more information about clerical garb, check out sites like this one in the UK that only sells fair trade clothing, and Hammond & Harper of London, a member of a reputable group of companies that has supplied shirts and collars to clergy for over 50 years, complete with a “30 day no quibble” guarantee replacement policy!

Tonsure collar.

Tonsure collar.

Vicar's collar
Vicar’s collar

Collars and cuffs

22 Mar

19th century detachable collar.

People notice the state of your clothes and if you’re running around in dirty collars and cuffs, this takes away your polished, professional look.

Victorian men were the most efficient shirt-wearers of the modern era with starched, detachable collars and cuffs easily replaced or rigorously cleaned, starched, and put back in place with studs. (For further reading on historical cuffs and collars, read this great blog.) By the early 20th century, cuffs and collars grew into the body of our shirts and have remained attached ever since – good for clothing efficiency but not good for instantly removing hard-to-clean grimy cuffs and oily collars.

It’s a shame to have to retire a shirt because of a dark ring around the inner collar or on the inside of your cuffs when the body and sleeves of the shirt are intact, so here’s help.

Collar care

When hanging your shirts up on hangers, whether to air dry or to put into your closet, you can extend the life of your shirt by buttoning the top button to keep the collar band in shape.

Sandwiched in between the back and front fabric of the collar and the collar band is the fusing (also known as interfacing) that gives shape and body to the collar pieces. Doing up the top button will keep your collars rounded and in good shape.

Collar stays
Does your collar curl? Sport shirts have a “soft” collar without as much fusing as a dress shirt because it is meant to be worn open at the neck, and dress shirts have “hard” collars with more stiffening because they support ties that need a firm, shaped foundations. Both types of collars can fall prey to curling collar points.
Avoid premature curling (and dye loss for that matter) by spending a little more on your shirts. Inexpensive shirts are not made of high-quality fabrics with good dyes and fusing, and you may find that after a few washes, not only has the collar curled, but the colour has dulled and the fusing has come away from the fabric and looks bubbly. Money-wise and image-wise, this is not a good investment.
Mother-of-pearl collar stays.

Mother-of-pearl collar stays.

Collar stays stiffen the collar points by sliding between two lines of stitching on the underside of a shirt collar (almost always featured on a dress shirt and some sport shirts). This helps the collar hold its shape and gives it a longer and healthier life.
Most off-the-rack shirts have plastic stays which are fine, but a gent who takes pride in his clothing will invest in metal (brass, silver), enamel, bone, or mother-of-pearl stays. Remember to remove them before laundering so you don’t lose them.

Ring around the collar

Though the body of your shirt is clean, you may still notice a dark ring around the inside of your collar. This is a stain of our skin’s natural oil, grooming products, sweat, and dirt, and it’s hard to remove with regular machine washing. If you’ve got some stubborn collar stains, try this:

  • Wet the collar and apply your choice of: liquid laundry soap or laundry bar soap (i.e. Sunlight) along the soiled band. I have also heard of using cream of tartar, shampoo, and a paste of vinegar and baking soda to remove collar stains;
  • Scrub with your fingers, a cloth, or a toothbrush but take care not to scrub too hard or you could damage the fabric;
  • Depending on the severity of the stain, either wash in hot water or pour boiling water over the collar and let soak for several hours before washing in hot water. Remember to keep your whites separate from your colours or risk tinting your white shirt with dye from the coloured shirt.

If the ring remains on a white shirt, try wetting the collar again and sponge a diluted solution of hydrogen peroxide and water, let sit for 30 minutes, then wash again in hot water.

If you just couldn’t be bothered, take the soiled shirt to the dry cleaners and make sure to point out the collar so they know how to clean it.

Cuffs

If you are lucky enough to get your shirts from shirt maker, Marlon Durrant Bespoke Shirts in Toronto, he does a practical collar and cuff replacement program for his high quality shirts. Md’s shirts are excellent investments as it is, and this value-add program says a lot about the integrity and quality of his garments and his business. I also see it as an environmentally conscious program in that it saves creating a whole new shirt.

For those wearing off-the-rack shirts, you may find everyday sweat, oil, and dirt mixed with the day’s food, drink, and anything else you get your hands into ends up on your cuffs. If you wear French-cuffed shirts, you may notice a discoloured strip on the outside fold; barrel cuffs soil inside and out. Follow the ring around the collar steps to clean your cuffs.

There you have it, gents – no more excuses for dirty collars and cuffs!