If you’re a person of a certain age, you might remember the Wisk commercial about “ring around the collar” in 1968.
Launched in 1956, Wisk was the first liquid laundry detergent. Although its 1968 commercial has been criticized for tone deaf messaging (women are responsible if their husband’s collars are dirty), it identified an age-old problem: keeping collars clean.
About 150 years earlier, Hannah Lord Montague of Troy, New York, “seized a pair of shears and removed a soiled collar from a comparatively clean neckband. Thus the first detachable collar made its appearance.” Her husband was a shoemaker (also known as a blacksmith).
As Brooks Brothers noted in honor of its 100th anniversary, when she took this inspired act in about 1825, “the electric washing machine would not be invented for another 85 years. Laundry was done by hand, an arduous process that often consumed at least a day of a household’s routine …”
Seeing a business opportunity, former Methodist Minister Rev. Ebenezer Brown put his wife and daughters to work. He created the first detachable collars (“string collars“) for sale; they cost $0.25 or $2.00 for a dozen.
Not to be outdone, Orlando Montague, the beneficiary his wife’s ingenuity, opened the Montague & Granger collar factory in Troy in 1834. Troy became the collar capital of the country.
In 1901, there were 26 collar- and cuff-makers and 38 laundries in the city. Wearing a detached white collar gave rise to a new working social class, the “white-collar” worker, who differentiated themselves from the no-collar or “blue-collar” factory worker.
By 1925, the detachable collar industry had $40 million in sales and employed 15,000 (85% women), according to the New York Times. Troy manufactured about 9-in-10 of the collars in the U.S.
By the late 1930s, the detachable collar’s stranglehold (pun entirely intended) on menswear had softened. Then, in the aftermath of World War II, American culture underwent a systemic change — the G.I. Bill sent thousands of young men to college, swelled the ranks of the middle class, and led to a redefinition of what sophisticated dressing meant as the Ivy League look swept the nation.