An Ode to The Little Lad's Lace Collar
From 16th century ruffs to Ganni’s high street takeover, the evolution of the lace collar in fashion.
Tiktok trends seem to change daily, and can range from a harmless dance to questionable medical dares. The video sharing app is particularly great at revitalising old music. Back in October 2020, a video of a man riding a skateboard and drinking cranberry juice singlehandedly brought Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 song “Dreams” back onto the charts. The trend currently taking over everyone’s For You Page is a bit more unexpected to say the least. A Starburst candy commercial from 2007 shows a “little lad” dancing and singing about his love for berries and cream. The song from the advert has dominated our screens, with the hashtag “berriesandcream” having garnered over 800 million views on the app. However, the last time I watched “The Little Lad” dance on my screen, I couldn’t help but notice just how trendy his lace collar would be in 2021. Let’s take a look back to see just how popular lace collars have been over the years.
The 1500s saw the creation of lace as we know it today. It began as an art that was passed down generationally to and from family members. Primarily made by women, lace creations quickly began being sold in open markets. Lace was immediately embraced by upper class women with intricate ruffs worn at the collar being the most popular way to wear it. There were two style of ruffs that were worn during this period; the first style was often seen on none other than Queen Elizabeth the first of England. This ruff was a half circle of lace, framing the wearer’s face by sitting high above the back of the head with an open front. The other and more common type of ruff was known as the Cartwheel ruff. This fully circular ruff was more popular on the European mainland. The Cartwheel ruff, worn by both men and women, would surround the neck and because of new achievements in starching techniques, the ruffs grew wider and wider. The ruff, no matter its size, was a mainstay in 16th century Europe, and the Netherlands especially was fond of the trend well into the next century (also fond of this trend was Lorde during her Melodrama era, who wore a cartwheel ruff during one of her Saturday Night Live appearances).
From left to right: Prince Hercule-François, Duc d'Alençon, 1572, The National Gallery of Art; Ellen Maurice by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, 1597, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
In the 17th century, when lace collars took over in popularity over ruffs, and were worn by both men and women. This is also likely the time-period that inspired The Little Lad. When Charles the First was crowned King of England in 1625, he brought with him lavish lace collars, which draped delicately over the wearer’s shoulders. Though softer and (probably) more comfortable to wear than the ruff, the collars could be just as intricate in their design because of the meticulous lace details. While these collars were worn by both men and women, men especially took a liking to them and often were the ones to wear grander designs. When it comes to the design of our Little Lad’s collar, it is clear that his outfit is heavily inspired by the puritans. Puritan dress initially was based on conservative English and Dutch fashions. However, around the same time, English colonists had developed towns in what is now Massachusetts of the United States. Of these colonists, many were English Puritans, and so Puritan dress is heavily associated with early American dress. The Puritans favoured dark, modest clothes usually adorned with no decoration other than the crisp, white collar. Unlike the collars seen in the earlier half of the century, these puritan collars were smaller and had less lace detailing. The Little Lad’s beautiful white collar is of bright contrast compared to the rest of his modest, black outfit, showing that he likely hails from the Puritan era of dress.
From left to right: The Van Moerkerken Family by Gerard ter Borch the Younger, 1653-54; Portrait of a Man, Said to Be Philip Wharton (1613–1696), Fourth Baron Wharton by John Hoskins, 1648; Portrait of a Woman by Ferdinand Bol, 1642. All images from The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
18th and 19th Centuries
While the 18th century was filled with frivolity when it came to getting dressed, lace collars had mostly fallen out of fashion. Lace was still a calling card to wealth, but women kept it as adornment to their sleeves and men would sometimes add it as a detail to their scarves. The 19th century saw a slight resurgence in lace collars when Elizabethan inspired ruffs made a comeback in the 1820s and ‘30s. Unlike the ruffs of the previous centuries, though, these ruffs were much smaller, looking almost more like an intricate lace choker necklace. By the 1840s, the ruffs evolved into small, white lace Peter Pan collars. The 1840s, similar to the latter half of the 1600s, was a time of conservatism, and so these collars remained small in size and simple in detail as to not overpower the wearer. Following the 1840s, lace collars were not a regular trend seen in men’s and women’s fashions, but rather something that was prominent in children’s clothing (if you haven’t already seen it, check out former American president Franklin Roosevelt’s baby photo – it is the perfect example of lace collars in children’s clothing while also funny to see in today’s modern context).
From left to right: Child's Dress, 1886-88, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Fashion Plate 1819, Nordiska Museet; Fashion Plate 1836 via Archives, Willey Child, 1894, Library of Congress
During the 20th century, lace collars made their appearances here and there, but were still primarily associated with children’s dress. When the 1960s rang in, the Youthquake that occurred completely changed the way people dressed. No longer were girls wanting to dress like their mothers and boys like they were heading to the office, but instead they embraced their youthfulness. Collars – particularly Peter Pan collars – came back in all sorts of shapes and materials, and were a detail seen on every shirt, coat, and dress. By the 1970s, heels were higher, lapels were wider, and collars had become more extravagant than ever before (well, for that century at least). Collars on womenswear became larger and longer to match the wide lapels seen on men’s suits. As the decade closed into the 1980s, collars became softer and more delicate (maybe there’s a correlation between times of conservatism and the re-emerging popularity of lace collars?). Rather than being worn by the groovy trendsetters of the prior decade, the 1980s saw lace collars adopted by preppy, academic aesthetics. Sloane Rangers, a term coined by Peter York in the 1970s, described young, upper class women living around the Sloane Square area of London who particularly favoured these frilly neck details on tops and dresses (think Princess Diana, pre-Prince Charles).
My mom (right) circa 1985 wearing what she called her "Alice in Wonderland" dress. Oh how I wish she had kept that dress.
The Victoriana trend of the late 2010s saw ruffles explode on the scene. Then, in 2019 the Danish it brand Ganni moved on from ruffles and released its version of the oversized, lace collar. Initially released as a white blouse with the collar attached, fashion fiends everywhere quickly picked up the top seeing its boundless potential as a layering piece (I personally remember searching everywhere for cheaper version of the Ganni top in the summer of 2019 with no luck initially, before I happened to find one left in the Zara in Edinburgh on a family holiday – only £29.90 too!). This trend was cemented into fashion’s zeitgeist in 2020 upon The Vampire’s Wife H&M collaboration. At first seen as a fleeting mircotrend, these collars have been a mainstay in many closets for nearly the past three years. Now available at nearly every high-street store, you can find the collar attached to anything or even as a single piece on its own.