“You just never know… “

Nov 14, 2012 | 1 comment

Hanging from the closet doorknob in the north upstairs bedroom is an old hand-embroidered reticule, made no doubt by my grandmother during the months following her 1897 engagement to my grandfather.  The little draw-string bag has definitely seen better days, but it and its contents were kept because “you just never know when this will come in handy.”

The bag has a stiff, round bottom and is just the right size for my grandfather’s size 15 celluloid collars, two of which still reside there… just in case.  The most recent photograph of him wearing such a collar was taken in 1912.  Perhaps it was one of these very collars that he was sporting that day.

Celluloid collars came into fashion in the late nineteenth century.  They were the practical and relatively inexpensive answer to maintaining clean neck ware.  In those, days with limited and difficult laundry facilities, most clothing, including linen dress shirts, saw a number of wearings before finding their way to a washtub.  Since it was the shirt collar that became soiled first, shirts were made as collarless garments, and men kept a supply of detachable and discard-able collars on hand.

In the beginning, these removable collars were linen but they were expensive items to be thrown out.  Soon paper collars were developed but those didn’t last long and weren’t as flexible or comfortable.  Celluloid (an early form of plastic) collars, developed in 1870, lasted five times longer and proved to be more flexible.  They remained in fashion until ready-made shirts with collars and ‘modern’ laundry facilities caught up with each other fifty years later.

My grandfather’s collars have been kept more as a curiosity than because we ever thought they would be useful again.  But when Kenny Olson needed a priest’s collar for his role as Father Joseph Louis Lionnet in “Shoalwater Shenanigans” that faded collar bag and its century-old contents came to mind and one of the collars proved just the perfect costume addition.  After all, it’s not for nothing that the dictionary lists “turn-around collar” among the synonyms for a priest or minister!

As my grandmother always said, “You just never know…”

1 Comment

  1. Stephanie Frieze

    It is wonderful that your family has kept the bag and shirt collars! I am sure that men are much more comfortable now with cloth collars, but your grandfather looks quite handsome and there’s something about a well dressed man!

    Reply

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