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Boiled Front Shirt

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 
I am researching men's formalwear and have had no luck finding an explanation of what a "boiled front" shirt is. I've seen photos and am aware that these shirts have a stiff bib but I have no idea why they are called "boiled" or how the bib is made stiff. Can anyone help me?
post #2 of 25
I think the shirts were washed by actually boiling them, and then starched into a cardboard-like stiffness far more extreme than you'll find in a modern evening or white-tie shirt.

The expression used in England was "boiled shirt", at least in the inter-war years.

I've tried wearing a NOS vintage "boiled shirt" a couple of times, but modern dry-cleaners seem unable to put the stiffness properly back in. On the other hand, it was not very uncomfortable, a great impediment to dancing, and made popping/snapping sounds when I did attempt dancing.
post #3 of 25
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lucky Strike
I think the shirts were washed by actually boiling them, and then starched into a cardboard-like stiffness far more extreme than you'll find in a modern evening or white-tie shirt.

Thanks for the helpful info. Do you have any idea why the shirts were washed through boiling rather than the usual procedure? And just to confirm, was it only the bib that was heavily starched?
post #4 of 25
My theory (and I may well be wrong) is that before modern detergents, boiling was the way to get white cotton or linen as clean as possible. My grandmother still insists on white kitchen towels and rags being boiled with a tiny bit of chlorine, rather than machine-washed.

Edit: Just the bib, collar and cuffs were starched on the ones I've seen. The body and sleeves would be ordinary unstarched cotton broadcloth.
post #5 of 25
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lucky Strike
My theory (and I may well be wrong) is that before modern detergents, boiling was the way to get white cotton or linen as clean as possible. My grandmother still insists on white kitchen towels and rags being boiled with a tiny bit of chlorine, rather than machine-washed.

Edit: Just the bib, collar and cuffs were starched on the ones I've seen. The body and sleeves would be ordinary unstarched cotton broadcloth.

Thanks again. Your term "boiled shirt" brought up a lot more Google hits than "boiled front shirt". I found a couple of descriptions stating that the entire shirt was boiled in starch but this seems highly impractical. The majority of sources, though, agree with your description.

Mystery solved!
post #6 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lucky Strike
I've tried wearing a NOS vintage "boiled shirt" a couple of times, but modern dry-cleaners seem unable to put the stiffness properly back in. On the other hand, it was not very uncomfortable, a great impediment to dancing, and made popping/snapping sounds when I did attempt dancing.

I wonder if Barkers might not starch your shirt. I used to have some detachable collars that I had them launder.

Aus_MD
post #7 of 25
Oh, thanks, but the detachable collars were hell to put on and wear.

In addition, on one of the two (?) occasions i tried wearing one with the original starch when I undressed in front of a lucky girl later in the night, my neck was chafed raw to the point that it looked as if I had tried to hang myself, or perhaps played asphyxiation games normally associated with Tory MPs.
post #8 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lucky Strike
Oh, thanks, but the detachable collars were hell to put on and wear.

In addition, on one of the two (?) occasions i tried wearing one with the original starch when I undressed in front of a lucky girl later in the night, my neck was chafed raw to the point that it looked as if I had tried to hang myself, or perhaps played asphyxiation games normally associated with Tory MPs.

What a horrible image - made me think of the recently departed Profumo.

Mine were fold-down, rather than wing collars. Initially they were uncomfortable, but they look very good, so I persisted with them. They need to be a little larger than an attached collar.

Aus_MD
post #9 of 25
This is why I avoid starch altogether.
post #10 of 25
I like the horsey military feel of a detachable collar. It's quite handsome especially if you wear them to something completely out of place.
post #11 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by LabelKing
I like the horsey military feel of a detachable collar.

It's quite handsome especially if you wear them to something completely out of place.

Say that in England, and they might very well give you a constituency with a safe Conservative margin.
post #12 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lucky Strike
Say that in England, and they might very well give you a constituency with a safe Conservative margin.
Possibly although I don't want to be a neo Oswald Mosley or D'Annunzio figure.

As for asphyxiation games, it somehow bodes well with elegant clothing. Think Charlus and other roués.
post #13 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by LabelKing
I like the horsey military feel of a detachable collar.

It's quite handsome especially if you wear them to something completely out of place.


They used to excite a frisson of interest amongst the zegna-wearing in operating theatre change rooms.

Aus_MD
post #14 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Aus_MD
They used to excite a frisson of interest amongst the zegna-wearing in operating theatre change rooms.

Aus_MD
Are you speaking from experience?
post #15 of 25
Did you know that Mosley was the model for Wodehouse's Sir Roderick Spode, führer of the Blackshorts? Same booming voice, same Boris Karloff stare.

I'd like to get some photos from d'Annunzio's wardrobe - apparently he had very eclectic tastes. I remember seeing a photo of some brown/white (?) loafers with penis shapes on the uppers. He wore them for seducing local maidens, rumour has it.
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