A dickey (alternatively written as dickie or dicky; sometimes known in American English as a tuxedo front or tux front) is a type of false shirt-front - originally known as a detachable bosom - designed to be worn with a tuxedo or men's white tie, usually attached to the collar and then tucked into the waistcoat or cummerbund. Better dickeys have a trouser tab at the end to secure them down, preventing the dickey from popping out. The rigid plastic dickey came into fashion in the latter years of the 19th century, and was one of the first successful commercial applications of celluloid.
The invention of the dickey was to make the bosom front of a full dress shirt a separate entity in itself, like the detachable collar, so it could be laundered and starched more easily than a traditional shirt with the bosom attached. The use of the dickey was considered bad style by traditionalists and had fallen out of use.[when?] Shirts with an attached bosom are now rare in themselves since traditional evening dress is no longer regularly worn.
The etymology can be attributed to Cockney rhyming slang where a "dicky dirt" is a shirt. Additionally, British office workers were required to wear suits, but their wages made it difficult to keep a fresh supply of laundered shirts. It was common practice, especially by the 1850s, to use dickeys as a way of covering dirty shirts.
Dickeys – celluloid, cardboard, and cloth
Celluloid (hard plastic)
Celluloid dickeys were popular for their waterproof and stain-resistant properties. Unlike traditional cloth shirt-fronts, they remained sleek, bright white, and did not wilt or wrinkle. Celluloid dickeys simulated the look of a formal shirt bib for day and evening wear. They were designed in a variety of patents, such as: rounded, flat-end, no restraints, a restraint tab at the end of the bib or side straps that tied at the wearer's back. For this reason, they were popular with entertainers, musicians, and other performers. Nevertheless, they were frequently maligned and spoofed for their stiffness, unmanageability, and tendency to pop out of place. In one notable Looney Tunes segment, Bugs Bunny conducts an arrogant opera singer and makes him hold a note so long that his dickey snaps out of his waistcoat and rolls up to his throat. "The flapping dickey", a famous Vaudeville cliché, involves a dickey which has been intentionally rigged to flap in a comical fashion.
Cardboard dickeys were worn in theater and service professions to save money from using linen formal shirts for uniforms. Examples of professions that used cardboard dickeys include waiters, hotel managers, doormen, bellboys, limo drivers, and servants. Cardboard dickeys are still manufactured in the United States by Amazon Drygoods.
Cloth dickeys simulate many different styles, some often seen examples include dress shirt front and collar, formal frilled shirt front (popular in the mid seventies with powder blue tuxedos) and most commonly in modern times as false turtleneck sweater fronts. Cloth dickeys are also often used in marching band uniforms.
Hard plastic dickeys have long since gone out of manufacture and fashion, but cloth turtleneck-style dickeys are still sometimes seen.
Dickeys in Women’s Wear
The dickey, traditionally worn by men, made the transition to women’s wear around 1943. While women may have worn dickeys before this time, ads in Vogue New York can be seen promoting dickeys in the February 1943 issue. Dickeys were said to “enliven your new suit or rejuvenate your old”. Women’s dickeys were made from cotton or rayon and embellished with embroidery, lace, jabots, and ruffles. They were priced between $2-$3 at the time.
Patterns for women’s dickeys can also be found dating to 1944, with Butterick’s patterns providing eight variations on the dickey. While dickeys have gone in and out of style over time, they’ve made a recent resurgence in the fashion world.
Dickeys in Contemporary Fashion
Recently, dickeys have been rising in popularity. In 2011, dickeys and menswear inspired lingerie became popular as a break from minimalist and restrictive fashion at the time. At the same time, detachable collars and dickeys were showing up on the runway as peter pan collars. In 2013, the materials used for dickies was expanding from knits and cotton, to leather and silk. The 2014 fall winter season saw the dickey return as a winter accessory used to keep the neck warm. By 2015, contemporary designers, like Michael Kors, adopted the dickey in his resort line. In an interview with InStyle Magazine, Kors said the dickey was a way to add versatility to a look, without adding bulk.
The rise of the dickey in pop culture has also encouraged the rise in popularity. For example, on the TV series The Big Bang Theory, worn by the character Howard Wolowitz, as well as in Dinner for Schmucks, where the character Therman Murch (played by Zach Galifianakis) wore an orange turtleneck dickey. Cousin Eddie (played by Randy Quaid) in "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" wore a dark green turtleneck dickey underneath an ivory sweater. The character Liz Lemon wore a "sweater" type dickey on the opening episode of season 6 on the TV series 30 Rock.
The dickey is not just a facet of men’s wear clothing, it is also used in certain types of cultural dress.
Historically, Armenian dress consisted of layers, a result of the variability of the weather, with short and hot summers and long and cold winters. Layers could be switched out easily when changes in the weather occurred. One component of this layering was a dicky style shirt that was heavily embroidered to cover the chest if the woman’s outer dress was low cut.
It is traditional for Greek widows to wear black to signify their mourning. Historically, widows in certain regions of Greece, specifically Peloponnese and Euboea, “wore a plain white chemise and an unembroidered sigouni with a black dickey, black headscarf and black apron.”
Sámi People (Northern Europe, Western Russia)
Both men and women of the Sámi culture, particularly in the central and southern parts of the Sámi region, wear dickeys under certain tunic styles. The tunics often have a V-neck opening that the dicky is worn under. The dickeys are usually rectangular and are made from wool. Traditionally, women wear red wool while men wear blue. The dickey is usually decorated with reindeer skin around the edges and metallic thread and glass beads in the center. The purpose is for the dickey to be the focal point of the outfit.
- Merriam-Webster, Oxford English Dictionary
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