On my first day as a working student at an eventing yard in Europe, I hugely embarrassed myself. One of the other students, a Belgian guy, was wearing the collar of his polo shirt popped up. I was seventeen, and fresh off the plane from a small, slightly redneck town, where walking around with a popped polo collar was akin to having a giant target on your back.
I myself was more encouraging of sartorial individuality than my jacked-up-truck driving hometown contemporaries, but it didn’t stop me from teasing this guy in a good natured way.
“Eyyyy!” I called to him, popping up my own collar and doing my best impression of a frat boy. “Popped colla’!”
He laughed, and we did in fact become friends after that. But as the day wore on, I became increasingly aware that collar popping on this continent was not done out of irony, or for sun protection. In fact, I seemed to be the only one of the eight person staff who did not have their polo collar popped up.
The nice Belgian dude most likely just did not understand my joke, or thought I was crazy in an amusing way. Or both. I thought it was simply the small world I had grown up in that caused my ignorance and prejudice of global collar-popping culture, but it turns out that it’s fairly standard for Europeans do it, while North Americans do not.
The more that I was exposed to the ways of my fellow working students, the more I appreciated a way of dressing that was ridiculed where I grew up. When you think of it, aren’t collars made to be popped? It gives off an insouciant vibe, frames the face nicely, and yes, protects the back of the neck from the sun. So why is collar popping now widely associated with, for lack of a better term, “douchebaggery” in North America?
In mainstream fashion, collar popping was originally a country club staple, made popular in the eighties by brands like Abercrombie & Fitch. Weird sub trends, like wearing not just one, but two popped collar polo shirts at the same time, contributed to the demise of the style as the decade ended. Collars dropped back down, and only frat boys and Kanye West kept up the tradition. No wonder there is such an adverse reaction to the habit.
Europe, wisely, stayed out of the whole mess, and thus does not have the same cultural baggage attached to popped collars. I’m making an executive decision that almost forty years is long enough. It’s time to start popping our collars again, ladies and gentlemen. I’ll go first. If anyone says anything about it, I’ll stick my nose high in the air and declare that it’s how they do it in Europe.