Sunday, February 19, 2017

How to to Give Your Collars a Good, Heavy Starching

I spent a long time trying figure out how to break my spray starch habit and give my detachable Victorian shirt collars a good, heavy starch that would keep them crisp and shapely (and not yellow) all day. I by no means mean to say that this is the only or best method- if you already have a process that works for you then by all means stick to it- but hopefully this will help someone make the leap to well starched collars.

The Collars- 

It starts with what you make your collar out of. I have found plain weave linen, a little heavier than you might ordinarily make a shirt out of, to take the starch best. This is a good economical solution, 5.3 oz from 

An example of one of my own attempts to deviate from this- I made several collars out of cotton twill, thinking I had really stumbled onto something, but when I tried to starch them, they just turned into a limp, powdery mess.

The examples I'm going to use here are collars I made for the early Victorian period (and as far back as the 1820s) that button in the center front, tie in the back, and stand straight up (actually, they kind of gradually mold to your contours as you wear them).

First- they must be CLEAN. At this point they will be a wrinkly, limp mess, not resembling the end result at all.

Giving credit where credit is due, this fellow's video gave me the foundation of my method:

My Starching Method- 

For up to three collars and maybe more- take a smaller sized mason jar and thoroughly mix 1/4 cup of starch (can be just plain off brand corn starch) and 1/4 cup of cold tap water. Then add 1/2 cup of boiling water and mix thoroughly.

Then add the collars and screw the cap on tight.

Get them all thoroughly saturated. For the next hour or more, turn the jar upside down and then back again a bit later repeatedly to keep the starch mixture flowing (and soaking in) evenly through the collars. Then, remove them from the jar, ring them out, and use your fingers to slough off excess water and starch. Hang them up and let them dry until damp. Do NOT let them completely dry.

Now it's time to press them. For a modern iron, be sure there is no water in the reservoir and heat it to the "linen" setting. Also, cover the portion of your ironing board that you will be using in a piece of scrap natural linen or cotton (don't use synthetic- it will melt).

Slowly, firmly, and evenly, run the iron over the collar, working it into a smooth firm surface as the starch dries under the heat of the iron.

They will be stiff as a board, which is exactly what you want! A very tall collar like this may be a bit uncomfortable at first but will gradually shape itself to you and will be fine to wear all day.

If you are making a collar for a later impression that requires heavy starch but folds over:

Follow the pressing procedure in two parts (with your protective cloth) over a tailor's ham, working it into a curved shape as you go.

Do the neck band first, then place a piece of natural cloth over the neck band, fold the upper portion of the collar down into position, and repeat the pressing process on it (with the piece of cloth between the neck band and upper portion; again- working it into a curved shape over the tailor's ham). 

Remove the piece of cloth between the neck band and fold over.

Photo by Naomi Faith Hammond Wilson

I hope this helps! There's nothing like starting the day by affixing a clean, crisp starched collar to your shirt.

Yours & c.,

The Victorian Man


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  2. Lovely!

    Very much curious here.

    I'm curious what the end result of "...working it into a curved shape as you go..." looks like before it's attached to the shirt.

    In Naomi's photo, are you wearing the "later, fold-over" type of collar? Do you have a photo where you're wearing the other sort (whatever its name is)?

    Have you tried other sorts of starch?

    Would Victorian-era people have soaked their collars in jars? (pans? pails?)

    The bit of scrap beneath your collar as you're ironing - does that serve to keep your collar clean by separating it from a stained ironing board, or is it simply a bit of padding to keep the bottom reasonably flat, because an old unpadded ironing board might leave a patterned impression?

    I would also *love* to see photos showing how the collar attaches and is worn!

    1. Hey Pete! Thanks for looking! Once you iron it curved as you go, it will stand up on its own in the shape that it will be when fastened to the shirt.

      Yes- in Naonmi's photo, that is an 1890s style fold over collar. I'm wearing a standing collar (earlier in the century but there will still standing collar styles in the 1890s) in this post:

      Have not tried other sorts of starch yet.

      And not sure specifically about what was used at home during the period but later in the century, detachable collars were often sent out to be starched and pressed commercially. Check this out:

      The scrap of fabric between the layers on a fold over collar is to prevent the layers from fusing when pressed into shape (I learned the hard way). The ironing board itself doesn't become an issue because you are pressing it over the "ham."

      And unfortunately I have not taken photos of the attachment process! Shirts that are made to take the collars have a narrow band collar built in with a buttonhole at the center back and a buttonhole on EACH front end (where it would usually button closed on a modern shirt). The detachable collar has buttonholes in the corresponding locations. Collar studs, e.g.:

      pass through the buttonholes and the shirt and then through the corresponding holes on the collar, securing it in place.

    2. Side note, It's worth noting that as awesome as tailor's hams are, for some unfathomable reason the commercially made one like we have are partly covered in a synthetic fabric that will melt if the iron directly touches it. Why, I cannot tell you.