One of the many delights of learning to sew has been experimenting with old patterns and recreating the popular styles of yesteryear.
One of my recent Etsy finds was a vintage 1939 men’s shirt pattern with a convertible collar. Convertible means that the shirt can be worn either with the collar buttoned on or with just the collar band. For the record, according to shirt guru David Coffin, the collar band is what you see on a shirt with no collar. The collar stand is what supports the collar on a shirt that has one. So for this 1939 shirt, I’d be making both a band and a stand.
This shirt harks back to the day when most people had very limited wardrobes. This was toward the end of the Great Depression, and a shirt with a convertible collar was desirable for a number of reasons: 1) It meant that the collar — the part of the shirt most likely to get soiled — could easily be replaced without replacing the entire shirt, and 2) the shirt could be both casual and dressy. One might wear the shirt without a collar for regular wear and save the collar for a dressier occasion like church.
If you’ve ever sewed from a vintage pattern, you know that most patterns from this period weren’t printed like those of today, nor were they multi-sized. You chose a shirt pattern, for example, in your specific neck size and the pattern pieces were pre-cut. Instead of printed notches and dots, there were perforations. Once you’ve sewn a few of these patterns you learn how to read all those little hole punches but the first time was a little bewildering! For example, instead of “cut on the fold”, the edge of a pattern piece has three large cut circles. Interesting, right?
My convertible collar shirt was pretty straightforward except for one thing. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out whether the collar was worn inside the shirt or outside. In that day and age, the pattern company assumed a man wouldn’t need instructions! After considerable online research, I realized that the collar and attached stand were intended to be worn outside the collar band itself. This also explained why the collar stand (again, this is the part attached to the collar and not to the shirt) was cut wider than the band itself.
Both stand and band have button holes, and you were expected to use a shirt stud to attach stand to band. The buttonhole, located on the outside of the band, however, only went through the outer layer, so that you wouldn’t have a stud poking you in the neck. Clever!
You may be surprised to learn that you can still find convertible collars out there, though they are few and far between and are usually associated with formal wear. Most of us aren’t trying to extend the life of our shirts with multiple collars, but it certainly is a good way to create different looks with the same shirt — say, contrasting white collar and collar stand with a striped shirt.
It takes a lot less time to create a new collar than it does a completely new shirt.
Have I “converted” you yet?
Have you ever experimented with vintage patterns? (If so, how’d you like it?)
When native New Yorker Peter Lappin bought his first sewing machine two years ago to hem a pair of thrift store jeans, little did he know he was initiating a journey that would bring him fame and fortune. While awaiting his fortune he stays busy writing “the world’s most popular men’s sewing blog,” Male Pattern Boldness, and now contributing to BurdaStyle.
“For more than twenty years I’d lived on the edge of the Garment District without even knowing what a seam ripper was. Now I rip daily!”