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Buttoned Up: Why The Power Collar is Back and Bigger Than Ever

Photographed by Mann for Vogue Arabia, October 2018

Photographed by Mann for Vogue Arabia, October 2018

From sharp to subtle, whether in collar, tie, or jabot form, assertive neckwear speaks volumes this season and beyond.

Back in the day, “loosening your collar” was a sign that things were about to get more interesting. It seems the neckline has long served as a barometer for primness and cultural mores – contrast the demure, practical neckbands of the 1940s with the plunging navel-grazers three decades later. But in the anything-goes sensibility of 2018, the trend has been toward neckwear that proclaims more specific (often specifically feminist) stances than mere modesty or lack thereof. From cinema screens to the US Supreme Court bench, on the runway and the streets of Sweden, protest neckwear has arrived.

Originally printed in the October 2018 issue of Vogue Arabia

In 2014, associate justice of the US Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg introduced her extensive collection of courtroom jabots. Ginsburg had adopted these collars and ruffs early in her Supreme Court tenure as a feminine alternative to the button-downs and neckties visible over the tops of her male colleagues’ robes. One example, a commanding black-and-gold jeweled collar that she still reserves for issuing dissents, became an instant fan favorite. When she wore it the day after the 2016 presidential election, it was seen by some as a silent war cry.


Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her signature collar. Image: Getty

By April of this year, when Swedes took to the streets – and their Instagram feeds – in shirts with bows tied at the neck, the politicization of the pussy bow had already begun. The bows in Sweden had everything to do with men behaving badly: The pussy-bow blouse is a favorite of Sara Danius, the former female head of the male-dominated Swedish Academy (bestower of the Nobel Prize in Literature), who was ousted from her post in the wake of a #MeToo misconduct scandal involving another member’s husband. Though Danius led the charge in conducting an internal investigation, infighting ensued and she was ultimately forced to step down.

Following her resignation, Swedish women adopted the pussy bow in a show of solidarity. The blouse already spoke to a way forward – similar to RBG’s jabots, the pussy bow was popularized in the 70s and 80s by working women searching for a spin on the suits and ties of their male peers.

Into this symbolic sartorial milieu comes this month’s film Colette, an exquisite belle epoque romp starring Keira Knightley as the mononymous French writer and Dominic West as her charming, self-aggrandizing husband, Willy. The premise: Willy coerces his young wife into ghostwriting an autobiographical novel for him which, no spoiler here, becomes the biggest literary sensation in France. He claims all credit, and drama ensues.


Keira Knightley in Colette

The turn-of-the-century story of triumph over erasure feels distinctly modern, and Colette is yet another woman who understands the value of a statement neckpiece. Her collars are progressively assertive, mirroring her transformation from a quiet country girl to a powerful Parisian presence. With nods to the modernist fashions of the era and Colette’s individual battle for equality, her many collars become increasingly sharp and androgynous, accented with brooches, small neckties, and ruffs. As the film’s costume designer, Andrea Flesch, puts it, “She wanted to be a woman recognized as a man would be recognized.”

Is it any surprise, then, given the current atmosphere, that this season’s runways were a veritable confection of bold neck accoutrements? At Versace, the collars of demure black-and-white shirts glittered with rhinestones; Gucci showed a kind of embellished black dickey that looked not unlike RBG’s dissent collar on steroids. There is something at once purposeful and protective in these details, with their proximity to the vulnerable neck, their framing of the face. At Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld presented a lush collection: classic Edwardian coats and tweed jackets with just-so-sized collars; black evening dresses with high, tight necklines and another with a long, drooping bow – not one would look out of place within the frames of Colette.

Gucci Spring 2019.

Gucci Spring 2019.

In fact, “the essence of Coco Chanel” was Flesch’s primary inspiration for the film’s costumes (fitting, given that Knightley has been a face of the brand for more than a decade). Flesch describes her muse as “the woman who didn’t want to accept the conventions, who frees herself and frees other women.”

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