Have you ever looked at an Elizabethan portrait and wondered why everyone back then seemed to be so partial to an excessively frilly ruff? Alongside denoting social status, some historians have theorised that the collars – known as “piccadills”– helped contain the pungent bodily odours festering beneath the many layers of clothing worn at the time. It should be remembered that Queen Elizabeth I was dubbed the cleanest woman in England on account of her “eccentric” habit of taking a bath once a month – most people properly bathed far less frequently, as it was considered madness to immerse yourself in water.
Nowadays – mercifully – we observe somewhat higher standards of personal hygiene and the piccadill lives on only as part of the name of a famous London thoroughfare. But the collar on the shirt you’re wearing now is, in fact, a direct descendant of that frilly ancestor and the process of how it evolved into its less conspicuous form is a complex one.
As recently as 50 years ago, there were somewhere in the region of 30 variations of turndown collars, and even though most have now been consigned to the sartorial dustheap, they can still prove something of a quandary – what exactly, is a cutaway or an Eton? Am I committing a style faux pas by pairing a tie with a button-down?