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As a result, we tend to be unaware that for more than years this singular item of apparel, which is essentially unadulterated in form from the late 19th century, has been able to define and represent status, wealth and fashion norms.
The history underlying this garment is rich and, in the main part, untold. For men, the influence of the white dress shirt can be best traced back to the Victorian era where it was an important symbol of wealth and class distinction and a powerful emblem of sobriety and uniformity — despite it being for the most part hidden by outer garments.
The pure white colour of the cloth fulfilled masculine ideals of resolute austerity and only a person of substantial prosperity could afford to have their shirts washed frequently and to own enough of them to wear.
Illustration of stand-up turned-down collar, Wikimedia Commons Interestingly, the collar was also used as a symbol of status, with high-standing armour-like detachable collars preventing a downward gaze. Indeed, the unadorned white dress shirt was intrinsically correlated to appropriate moral masculine behaviour and this austerity of dress indicated that a man could be trusted and was soberly business-like.
By the close of the 19th century, the use of the white dress shirt as an insignia to define status had diminished. Arrow Shirt Collar advertisement, Wikimedia Commons After the end of the first world war, a societal shift was occurring and a new, softer and more fluid look was developing for less formal clothing.
His rejection of the white shirt, with its severe lines, in favour of soft, floppy, coloured shirts created a major shift in menswear.
Nevertheless, in the early s the white dress shirt was still associated with moral respectability. Watson, was insistent on a dress code, demanding his office employees wear a classic white shirt as part of their mandatory attire. This association with ideals of steadfastness was also played out in the fictional American advertising creation of the Arrow Collar Manwith his rigid white shirt, promoting American masculine ideals.
The next significant change for the white dress shirt was the introduction of synthetic fabrics, with questionable ability for comfort, in the late s and early s. Then in the late s and early s an escalation of floridity occurred, in particular, frontal flounces and ruffles, as well as increased collar widths.
Wikimedia Commons In the early s, for a brief period, an innovative romantic style of dressing with loosely styled foppish and frilled white dress shirts was the height of fashion — influenced by popular new romantic bands, such as British band Spandau Ballet.
Next time you walk through a department store, and glance at the rows of intricately folded and exactingly boxed white dress shirts, you can pause to consider the important historical connections. Is there a fashion item — iconic, everyday or utilitarian — you would like to tell the story of?vi A Typical Teaching Week sounds right and what needs to be improved.
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