It's quite obvious that neckties are no longer worn as frequently as they used to be. I mean, just take a quick stroll outside and you'll notice the lack of neck ties that men don't wear in their daily lives.
But to answer this question of why collar stays exist, we need to trail back to the history of men's clothing.
Note - We won't be needing to know the right hand side which depicts women's fashion trends. But it's still good to know.
As you can see, times have changed but the suit in corporate wear still prevails as standard workwear. As time progressed, neckties became longer, layers of clothing would be removed and colours would change.
One thing however, prevails as a theme. This is the prominence of the "shirt collar" in each decade of the 1900's. To learn more about the shirt collar click here.
The most prominent feature of the shirt is the "collar". Hence, why we at He.Stays emphasise maintaining a sharp shirt collar reflective of your sharp look.
During the 20th Century, starch was used on a daily basis to keep the collars stiff and prepped. A popular joke spread around amongst working men and wrinkled shirts. If he turned up to work with a wrinkled shirt he'd be ridiculed for being married to a women who didn't grow up learning her job of laundering. Kind of like the Folger's sexist commercial when women were humiliated by making a bad cup of coffee.
The starching on the shirt would keep the entirety of the shirt unwrinkled as well as the collar stiff and sharp.
On another note; there was a peculiar thought that plagued the British and their hygiene. It was believed that reducing the amount of baths that you took would keep you closer to God. In fact, people believed that bathing provided an opportunity for the Devil to enter your body and provoke sin. Times eventually changed and later on people thought bathing increased vulnerability for disease. Due to the lack of water resources, peasants were rarely given the opportunity to bath.
Due to the mindset to bathing and washing clothes, men would not regularly wash their clothing. However, due to the layering involved with civilian clothing, the most prominent part of the shirt that was exposed was the shirt collar and cuff. Thus, to keep looking sharp, these parts of the shirt were made detachable to be replaced as the body of the shirt weren't washed as regularly.
As time continued the regularity of starching the shirt become less and less as it became quite uncomfortable but the detachable collars remained starched. Due to the nature of starch, an additional advantage of using it is it accumulates the dirt in a layer above the fabric for it to be easily washed away.
Soon enough, in the 1910's instead of donning seriously uncomfortable starched stiff wing collar shirts, the collars elongated and folded down for comfort.
Who invented collar stays?
Official & Unofficial Records of collar stays and patents
Soon after in 1912 the first unofficial idea of the collar stay came to fruition by Max Rittenberg who was an employee of Alexander & Oviatt in Los Angeles. - Source
The first time the phrase and invention of the "collar stay" was officially filed for a patent on the 13th of October 1953. But the filing date was two years back on 9th of July 1951 by Andrew Doric Charles.
Early concepts of collar stays used materials such as celluloid, wood and metal.
Due to todays casual nature of office dress codes and increased availability of affordable clothing, detachable shirt collars and starched shirts are not as common. Instead, most shirts include collar pockets underneath the shirt collar for collar stays to be inserted to prevent it from flaring and curling out of place.
Keep in mind that when shopping for shirts, it's a quick and easy indicator of quality whether the shirt has collar pockets installed for collar stays. Low quality shirts won't have collar pockets because it costs extra time, money and fabric to place another layer for the interfacing. Great shirts cost a lot for manufacturers and if you add up the numbers, manufacturers notice the extra dosh used for the collar pockets.
We bathe and wash our clothes regularly such that we no longer need detachable shirt collars. We've finally realised the discomfort of high neck shirt collars, especially when they're starched stiff. Instead, we've folded down the shirt collar and installed collar pockets to keep the collar looking stiff as if it were starched.
Ultimately, the point of the collar stays is to keep the shirt collar remaining stiff and sharp for a professional and presentable look. Besides the shirt cuffs, the shirt collar is the most important feature of the shirt and not having this sharp makes you look sloppy and unprofessional.