Saturday, October 8, 2011

Collar Popping: A brief history of Asshole Iconography from the late 1800s to Present

In the apocrypha of haberdashery, popping one’s collar, known technically as "an upturned collar," was first invented by Walter Makepeace Scantleberry in 1889, during a cold windy night in London while stagecoaching. Legend has it that Scantleberry mentioned to his passengers that the wind was whipping up and that he was going "to pop up my collar" so as to protect himself from the cold.

Since that time, the practice of collar popping has enjoyed a long association with the obnoxiously over-privileged and self-entitled asshole. It became so popular during the turn of the 20th century in Europe and America that manufacturers began to make detachable collars that would button in the front and in the back of the shirt, elevating the popped collar from practical application to useless fashion icon of wealth. In his 1902 book Kipps, writer H.G. Wells, a futurist and a practical man, railed against the wearing of the popped collar, pointing out that it was another sign of the elite and that popular application, except for in the cold, was pointless. He further pointed out that it "made [the] neck quite sore and left a red mark under [the] ears." For his part, Wells swore off of them for good.

After the turn of the 20th century, people began to realize the elitist nature of the popped collar – as well as the correlation between assholes and popped collars. As a consequence, the upturned collar began to fall out of fashion (by the end of World War II detachable collars had all but ceased to be mass-produced). But, it was during this time, in the 1920's, that the asshole faction of society completely usurped the upturned collar and turned it into a sign of money, wealth, leisure, elitism, and a hallmark of the truly assholish.

The advent of the modern upturned collar came with the invention of the Tennis Shirt. In 1929, Rene Lacoste, “the Crocodile,” a 7-time French Grand Slam Tennis Tournament Champion, realized the inanity of playing tennis in stiff collars, dress shirts, and ties, and invented (in a secret French military laboratory) the Tennis Shirt. The Tennis Shirt, with a soft collar, could be worn flat or "popped" up, ostensibly protecting the wearer from the cold and the sun.

Truthfully, the upturned collar is but another signifier of the tradition of money and wealth that also runs through tennis: a game of leisure for the rich, signaling the wearer as a member of the elite leisure class.

As the popularity of the Tennis Shirt started to bleed over into other leisure class sports, like polo, golf, and the exploitation of the masses, the Tennis Shirt and dual position collar began to transition over into mainstream society as those who aspire to or are members of the asshole elite began to signal their membership to each other with the upturned collar.

The evidence of this turn of events that is still alive in the modern age is the popularity of the upturned collar in heavily asshole-concentrated areas of the US today, such as Nantucket (the most recent US census, the 2000 census, noted that nearly 83% of people living in Nantucket who were of the ages 13 and up were assholes, or, as the census writers phrased it, "total pricks of one kind or another"). A recent study published in Nature, "Structural and Organizational Complexity of Visual and Auditory Recognition Cues and the Perception of Group Membership in Modern Asshole Social Circles," author Maxwell Burgdorfer wrote: "Scientifically speaking, we have shown there is a direct link to collar popping and totally assholery... There can be little doubt that the Upturned Collar is a signal to others of the aspirations and intentions of a true asshole."

The history of the Upturned Collar has shown little evolution, retaining now for over one hundred years its signification with the elite cadre of the truly assholish.


  1. a modest businessman in californiaOctober 8, 2009 at 2:56 PM

    Great post! I do sometimes use the popped collar as a social signaling device. Much like how I go into every business meeting with several different ties hidden on my person and will at various points, when I "walk out" of the discussion, surreptitiously change ties from lets say a soft friendly blue to a deep blood red. In the other direction I might go from a classic Nantucket-pastel-plaid (itself an asshole signal) to a dandy pink bowtie. The flexible tennis-shirt collar is an interesting case as it can be used in the standard, modest "full down" position to ambiguously signal something between calm good naturedness and supplication. Popping it fully clearly signals asshole and thus can be used for (minor) intimidation purposes w.r.t. some people. But I find I personally get the most mileage out of popping one side only and leaving the other fully down. There are different subtle meanings to popping the left side vs. popping the right but sporting either option will cause one to be perceived as "mad" and "a loose cannon." The half-popped collar will intimidate *all* people, including (and especially) those sporting the "full pop."

  2. i find your ideas intriguing and wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

  3. Is it possible you could provide sources? this is great stuff, I'm just writing a research paper on the popped collar and would really appreciate it...

  4. hey Austin. thanks for reading. besides researching most of this in the ether of my mind, i found this article to be pretty helpful: