Traditional men’s Edwardian dress shirts (1900s-1910s) came in three forms. The soft pullover style, stiff bosom front or the newer button down coat style. Each style had an appropriate suit or semi- dressy outfit to wear it with. Shirt collar types were usually detachable linen in tall stiff shapes until the post war years. While collars were white, Men’s 1900s dress shirts were made in vibrant stripes and small patterns. No boring shirts allowed!
Men’s dress shirts, those for wearing with suits, differed from men’s casual shirts and work shirts which we will discuss in an upcoming article.
Men’s Edwardian Shirt Styles
Men’s Edwardian soft dress shirts, called Negligee shirts, were made of light cotton madras, percale or cambric batiste in spring and summer. The pattern, usually stripes or light plaid, was woven into the fabric. Cheap shirts may have had a printed pattern. In fall and winter, heavier weight cotton dress shirts were sold.
The 1900s and 1910s Negligee shirt came in the pullover style with a long button plaquette ending slightly below the waistline (which was high rise) or the newest coat- style which buttoned all the way down the shirt. A buttonless plaquette began half way down, overlapping the left side.
Stiff front bosom shirts (celluloid) with a starched detachable white collar were what every traditional business man wore. The shirt pulled on overhead with three white pearl buttons fastening from collar to sternum. The size of the bosom was around 13 1/2 by 8 inches to 16 by 9 1/2 inches but could be up to 17 by 19 inches. The bosom needed to cover the chest enough so that no soft part appeared under the vest. This helped keep men’s appearance neat and strong.
Most bosom front shirts were white but colors and patterns were also available in both starched, called laundered, or un-laundered options. Plain (smooth) as well as narrow and wide pleats were found on bosoms.
The pleated front soft shirt was yet another option for Edwardian men’s dress shirts. Inch wide pleats were placed vertically down the shirt starting at the collar and moving out half way to the shoulder. They were popular in summer where the pleating provided extra air to circulate.
Detachable bosoms called dickies were also sold as false fronts. They could be worn over another white or matching colored shirt with a detachable collar. They were ideal for men who wore tuxedos as uniforms (waiters, butlers, entertainers) especially when made of rubber. The laundry savings made them economical. They however, became a source of comic fodder when they suddenly rolled up and smacked the entertainer in the face!
Shirt pockets were optional. About 90% of men’s dress shirts did not have chest pockets. Pockets were for the working classes. Since men had suit vests and jackets to carry small items, a shirt pocket was unnecessary. However after 1910, a few soft shirts took inspired from military men’s shirts and placed one or two pockets on the chest. These were worn only in summer, without a vest. The pockets had a square or envelope flap with button.
Shirt Colors and Patterns
1910s and 1910s Edwardian era soft shirts came in more colors, patterns and fabrics than bosom shirts. Chambray, linen, percale, oxford, flannel and various cottons were common fabrics year-round. A twilled sateen was used in summer and was the lightest and coolest option besides linen.
Shirt colors and patterns were very bright. Blue and white vertical stripes, red and white stripes, lavender and white stripes, and burgundy and white were the most popular. Some stripes had a pattern within the stripe. The width of the stripe could be very thin or slightly wider but never very wide or horizontal. Tiny polka dots and other small patterns spaced out all over the shirt were trendy as well.
Solid colors with subtle patterns were increasing in the late 1910s. Sage green, yellow, blue and peach were trendy. Solid color shirts looked too much like work shirts which is why most men, keeping up with their class status, chose stripes or patterns instead.
The all silk shirt became very popular in the post war boom after 1918. Men who had wealth could afford the $20 price tag ($350 USA dollars in 2020.) Cheaper washable tub silks cost significantly less, around $50-100.
Shirts were sold in neck sizes, most between 14 1/2 and 17 inches around. They were not sold by body size, except for a few made for “portly men.” Since most dress shirt wearing men had clothes custom made by a tailor this wasn’t an issue. For lower middle classes who ordered generic size shirts, the sleeves may have been too long and the body too wide.
There was no such thing as a trim fit shirt, men’s shirts were full cut and quite long- 36 inches from shoulder to hem. The extra length was tucked into trousers which were high waisted and full fitting around the hip/seat/crotch.
The typical Edwardian men’s business suit shirt had a narrow banned collar in which a tall detachable shirt collar made of stiff celluloid, linen or rubber was attached in the front and back of the neck with a shirt stud. Detachable white collars allowed men to clean or discard dirty collars more often, extending the life of the shirt by a few years.
Many working class men who could not afford to buy many detachable collars, would wear a shirt without a collar to work or in a casual setting, saving a white collar for Church and special occasions.
There were attached collar soft shirts in the 1900s that some men who could afford frequent replacement could purchase. A man could also buy a shirt with matching detachable collar instead of white, although this was less common and considered too informal for a middle and upper class man
Men returning from WW1 preferred the military style soft shirt with attached unstarched collars in matching shirt body colors. They were still slow to catch on and the white detachable shirt collar wouldn’t fully disappeared until the late 1920s.
In 1919 there was very briefly a trend to wear a pattern shirt collar with a white or subtle stripe shirt. Some of the collar patterns were very bold such as black and white checks.
There were well over 400 different styles of shirt collars worn at the turn of the century. Every designer, tailors shop, traveling salesmen or mail order catalog had their own names for the collars they sold. This is why it is incredibly difficult to “name a style of Edwardian collar” today.
The Poke collar is one name that describes many men’s early 1900s dress shirt collars. It stood high around 2 3/4 inches in front and 2 3/8 inches at the back. Shorter collars around 2 3/8 inches at the front and 1 and 7/8 in the back were also common. The front edges could be slightly rounded for comfort.
A similar round collar was the Clerical collar for men of the cloth. It was fastened at the back only with a collar button and in the front with a tabbed shirt button.
Wing collars were the most formal, usually worn with white tie eveningwear or dressy morning suits. They had points that folded down and stuck straight out past the necktie. Some less formal styles featured rounded edge wing tips.
Stand collars, like poke collars, were the tallest collars and most iconic of the decade. They featured a round collar that folded down over itself. They were uncomfortable for the stiff starching required to keep them neat. In the later years men could wear softer stand collars held together with a collar pin.
The Fold down collar gained popularity after 1906. Its fame was made by the “Arrow Collar” man, illustrated by Joseph Leyendecker. He was strong, sexy, calm and masculine. Women found the ads to be a great motivator in purchasing collars for their spouses. Arrow shirt ads from 1906 to the early 1920 were responsible for turning the company into a 32 million dollar business!
Fold down collars could have rounded edges, small or large points with a large or narrow V opening. The width of the opening accommodated certain ties and bow ties. Wide openings could handle a broad necktie while a very narrow opening needed skinny ties worn under the collar.
As the decade moved into the 1910s, especially during WW1 and after, collar sizes decreased to 2 1/2 inches in the front and 1 7/8 inches in the back. The collar points were closer together and two buttons and a loop held them in place.
The Club Collar, was one variation of the stand or fold down collar that had cutaway rounded edges. The edges could meet in the front or be open and spread by the end of the decade.
1900s Shirt Cuffs and Cuff Links
Dress shirts cuffs were made in matching fabric to the shirt body while the collars were white. Cuffs were offered in attached or detachable options. There was a fold back French cuff found one most men’s dress shirts. Barrel cuffs were popular in the early 1900s. All shirt cuffs were secured with gold cuff links.
Men’s shirts were always long sleeved. In summer, rolling up long sleeves to over the elbow was the only relief.
Buying Edwardian Men’s Shirts
While there are some reproduction Victorian shirts and later 1930s + shirts, the Edwardian era is largely ignored. You can find a few detachable collars and collarless shirts from a USA and UK sources or buy modern attached collar shirts in similar stripe patterns.
When choosing the later, look for classic fit shirts, not slim or trim fit. Choose white collars in the style you prefer, although options will be limited to the Club Collars or point collar. Most important is to choose a vibrant bold stripe pattern, not white, unless you need a bosom shirt for formalwear.
Here are some modern shirts, reproduction Edwardian shirts and detachable collars I have found online: