Grandad collar shirts take a deserved return to fashion form this season and contrary to popular belief, they’re not as hard to pull of as you may think. Within menswear we love a back story, the history behind our clothing. So much of what you think may be a relatively new trend almost always has a rich past, often steeped in military origins. The history of the grandad collar shirt is not quite so cut and dry, there are a number of different points of reference for this season’s coolest shirt…
One origin is New York, 1927. A lady named Hannah Montague cut the collar off her husband’s shirt to wash it separately and so was born the detachable collar. Historically very formal, all manner of detachable collar styles were available including the wing tip used by the legal professionals and city workers of the day. Without the detachable collar fastened in, the shirt has just a band collar, almost exactly as you’d find a grandad collar today. This charming back story gives rise to a rebellious modern tailoring look, where the idea is that you just left your detachable collar off and removed the tie. It’s not a look for everyone and may not be appropriate for the office.
On the other end of the spectrum, the grandad collar is also said to have originated from the blue collar workers, farmers and factory hands of the 1920s and 30s. The story goes that since these guys didn’t wear a tie, for fear of it getting stuck in the machinery, they would cut the collar off their shirts or buy band collar shirts. This origin should conjure images of rugged denim or gabardine trousers, (think Boardwalk Empire factory workers) hardwearing shoes and perhaps a flat cap as was the signature of the British working classes around the time. Ireland also site the grandfather shirt as being part of their traditional country dress along with the Aran jumper.
Further from home, the grandad collar style of shirt was popularised in India by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in the 1950s. In a warm climate like India, the grandad shirt would have been crafted in lightweight cotton, linen or muslin. It was popular because it was practical. Not having a collar kept people cool. It’s said that when the Beatles took their trip to India they adopted this style causing somewhat of a much more hippy resurgence in the popularity of the grandad collar.
Finally, as with most menswear there is a brief stint in military uniform history, where a grandad collar was used on the recognisable greyback shirt during World War 1 as well as a number of khaki green wool undershirts during WWII, wool because it’s breathable and the grandad collar design presumably because it was functional and easy wearing.
With so many different schools of menswear all laying down claim to slightly different incarnations of the grandad shirt it’s not surprising that now it should return to form as a practical and versatile menswear staple.