The Old Money Look: Princeton Boys And The Sandpapered Shirt Collar

frayed collar

The recent New York Times piece on the the new/old Brooks Brothers oxford shirt contained the source of an important sartorial anecdote. Years ago I’d seen a reference online to the custom that Princeton boys back in the day who didn’t come from WASPy families and prep schools would sandpaper the collars of their shirts to make them look as if the boys had been wearing them for years.

The Times piece revealed the source of the anecdote to be “Out Of Place,” a memoir by author and professor Edward W. Said. I ordered a copy and scoured it for the reference, which, as if the climax to the book, comes at the very end.

The context of the faux fray is the Princeton tradition of Bicker (which is also explored at length in Geoffrey Wolff’s book “The Final Club,” source of one of Ivy Style’s most important posts on Ivy in literature).

The passage runs:

… gruesome was the sight of those students who knew that by virtue of race, background, or manner, they could not make the club of their choice as they set out to transform themselves into WASP paragons, usually with pathetic results. This was symbolized by the junior and senior vogue for blue button-down shirts with frayed collars; I remember watching in astonishment as two classmates in an adjoining suite applied sandpaper to a pair of new blue button-down shirts, trying in a matter of minutes to produce the effect of the worn-out aristocratic shirt that might get them into a better club.

The shirt above is one of my old/new (as opposed to new/old) Brooks blue buttondowns, with fraying earned over years of wear. Funny how the fraying always favors one side. — CC

12 Comments on "The Old Money Look: Princeton Boys And The Sandpapered Shirt Collar"

  1. Yes. It is true, the fraying always favors one side. I was always sad when the fraying became an open wound, you new the shirt had an eventual expiration date–just as the shirt had become its softest and most lovely. Nothing was sexier than your gf in that shirt.

  2. knew, of course, not new 🙂

  3. NaturalShoulder | May 25, 2016 at 4:47 pm |

    Instead of tailors asking if you dress right or left, perhaps shirt makers will ask if you fray right or left. I am a fray to the right man myself.

  4. As with sleeves the right shoulder is a touch larger (in right-handed persons) and thus that side rubs against the neck more.

  5. Said revelation is also in Paul Fussell’s book “Uniforms: Why We Are What We Wear”.

    “But the young American male need not hunker down in a group like a fraternity to risk anxiety over being caught out of uniform…Fraternity boys engage in all sorts of levities and pranks, but not a single “brother” would think of appearing in, say, colorful tights. The brothers in their millions are clad in the obligatory uniform of their decade. It used to comprise, at least in the East, khakis or gray flannel trousers, button-down shirts, tweed jackets, and loafers. Crew neck sweaters and corduroys were also acceptable. Professor Edward Said of Columbia recalls what everyone – everyone – looked like at his prep school and at Princeton, where he went next: “My classmates either were or tried to be cut from the same cloth…everyone wore the same clothes (white bucks, button-down shirts, and tweed jackets).” Getting the shirts right was particularly important, and in button-downs, light blue was virtually obligatory. Said testified that he once witnessed two Princetonians at work soliciting the desired worn-out look by applying sandpaper to the collars of new, and of course blue, shirts.”

  6. Is this any more ludicrous than the Zuckerberg look?

  7. The right side is due to the amount of arm movement for right handed persons i.e. opening doors, holding the phone, shaking hands, tipping back your G&T, etc.

    I do love wearing my favorite pieces to ribbons. My GUCCI (egads!) horsebits look simply gudawful. Every imperfection and scar is a sign of love.

  8. Rick Woodward | May 26, 2016 at 12:17 pm |

    Anyone else remember having the collars on your OCBDs turned when they started to fray. My Chinese laundry in NYC would do the job for $2.00 as I recall and it was like having a new shirt (well, sort of). This was during the late 70s and early 80s.

  9. @Frederic

    Your comment suggests you have either not read or not understood the content of this website at all.

  10. These fellows sanding their shirts went on to created a very lucrative business at RL overseeing the “worn-out look” department. These enterprising young grads expanded their business to include chino pockets, jeans, Polo shirts, white bucks made dirty!

  11. My favorite OCBD sandpaper legend is still this one from P.J. O’Rourke as quoted in Ivy Style on Sept 25, 2015:

    “A rich man’s shirt frays at the back of the collar because that’s where the head and neck rub when the nose is pointed disdainfully in the air. You can achieve the same effect by running some fine-grit sandpaper along this part of your shirts.”

  12. JF Benefield | June 27, 2016 at 2:41 pm |

    The fraying on the right underside of the OCBD is not ‘due to the amount of arm movement for right handed persons’ – it merely has to do with untying the necktie – once untied, most of us will simply pull the wider end, which pulls the narrower end out – by yanking to the left, thus creating the greatest friction on the right underside, as the photograph makes plain.

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