The History Of Menswear Told Through NYPL’S Digital Collection: Part 6

Earlier this year the New York Public Library shared 180,000 prints, maps, manuscripts, and much more in a digital public domain collection for the very first time. In it, we unearthed menswear ads from over one hundred years ago. In this series, we explore them. Discover part six below, and find part one here, part two here, part three here, part four here, and part five here in case you missed them.

Arrow collars & shirts. Saturday evening post, April 13, 1912.


Men's white dress shirt


This print ad from over 100 years ago shows that white shirts, such as our Kent and Bellevue, have always been a wardrobe staple for gentlemen. Beginning during the Victorian era, the white dress shirt emerged as a symbol of wealth and class distinction, becoming a powerful influence. The pure white color of the cloth meant that only a person of substantial prosperity could afford to wash their shirts frequently enough and own enough, to wear each day. Furthermore, the collar itself become a status symbol, with high-standing detachable collars which prevented a downward gaze. As a result, starched high rigid collars distinguished the elite from those who needed low collars for ease of movement, such as clerks.

As late as the 1920s the white dress shirt was still associated with moral respectability. For example, “in 1924 Thomas J. Watson, the founding father of IBM, insisted on employees wearing a classic white shirt in the office,” according to The Washington Post. You’ll recognize that this association with ideals of determination and loyalty also play out in the ad above.

As Arrow Collars’ highlights, whether playing tennis or going for a drive on a Saturday evening, you can’t go wrong with a white shirt and the air of distinction it provides. By using adjectives such as “attractive and valuable,” and pairing a man with a mate, they’re really tapped into the underlying benefits of looking sharp. The only thing we’re left wondering is why is the gentleman on the side of the road holding a tennis racket and no duffel bag.

What surprised you most about this ad?

The History Of Menswear Told Through NYPL’S Digital Collection: Part 6
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