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What is a Bertha Collar?

By Erica Stratton
Updated May 21, 2024
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A Bertha collar is a wide, round, flat collar designed to accent a woman's shoulders. It has a long history stretching back to Victorian fashion. It can be worn as an accessory to a dress or a top, and it is sometimes removable like a shawl.

The first incarnation of the Bertha collar was as part of Victorian evening wear. During the early Victorian era, women's fashions underwent a change, and it became acceptable for women to show off their bare shoulders. This style's main feature was a wide, flat, lacy frill that trimmed the neckline of these dresses. Some of these frills used so much lace that they could be 6-inches (15.24 cm) deep.

In the 1940s, the Bertha collar underwent a revival. During this time, the Bertha collar began to have a wider definition. The name came to mean almost any large collar rather than one strictly used as part of a dress that showed shoulders. Square collars and Peter Pan collars evolved from this trend.

In the 1940s, the Bertha collar also was in fashion as part of a wedding dress, whose styling had not changed much since the Victorian era. White dresses made of the newly-manufactured rayon, or "artificial silk", hung with lace and embroidered with seed pearls, were the norm for brides. For those who liked the look of an off-shoulder dress, but didn't want to show too much flesh, the garment's shoulders could be created of semi-opaque illusion netting.

The Bertha collar has also become a feature of modern fashion, particularly in "bohemian" tops and dresses. These flowing garments are often worn off-shoulder, with the collar accenting the chest. This collar is sometimes embroidered. Some "Mexican"-style dresses--unfitted, but made with brightly colored fabrics and embroidered with large flowers--also utilize a wide collar. Many of these dresses have their necklines gathered with elastic, so the wearer can choose how much neck and shoulder they wish to show.

Over the years, the Bertha collar, sometimes called a cape collar because of its size, has morphed into an actual cape. Often made of lace or with frilly accents, the cape collar can be easily removed to transition from day time to evening wear. It can also be worn as an accessory for many different outfits. Some high-end clothing, which has a boat neck rather than a full off-shoulder neckline, will also utilize a cape collar. These wide, round collars are often made of pleated fabric for a rich look.

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Discussion Comments

By afterall — On Jul 16, 2011

I did not realize this was the name for that type of shirt collar. It seems like a more formal type of peasant collar, and I like that it can be similar but so much more refined. A lot of wedding dresses have designs like this, and I think they are just so timeless.

By OeKc05 — On Jul 16, 2011

My sister inherited my great-grandmother’s wedding dress, and she decided to wear it for her wedding. She loved old-fashioned things, and this dress really is quite beautiful.

The Victorian style can be seen in the large Bertha collar. It is made of sheer material intertwined with lace. She wore the dress off-shoulder for elegance. The material has a lovely silver tint to it, and a line of pink roses in various sizes extends from the middle of the collar down to the waist, which pearls encircle.

The trim of the garment includes pink roses alternating with pearls. We were both glad the garment and the pearls had that silver tint, because otherwise, it would have yellowed by now.

By orangey03 — On Jul 15, 2011

I love the elastic Bertha collar of my long hippie-style dress. Though this collar would allow me to wear the dress with bare shoulders, I am shy, so I like having the option to pull the collar up for more coverage.

The print is a mixture of sunflowers, seed, and suns with radiating light around them. The background is dark blue to accentuate the elements. The Bertha collar blends right into the dress, because the pattern on it is exactly the same as the rest of the dress.

My only issue with this dress lies in the elastic. I know that over time, it will lose its power, and I may have to retire the dress from my closet.

By Azuza — On Jul 14, 2011

@sunnySkys - The collar you're describing sounds all right, but I must admit I despise Peter Pan collars!

When I was growing up my mom just loved the Peter Pan collar. I had so many dresses and shirts with this style collar that I just got so sick of it! I think it looks ridiculous and outdated.

By sunnySkys — On Jul 14, 2011

I have a shirt with a Bertha collar! Until just now I didn't even know that was the name for it.

It's one of my favorite collar styles though. I especially like it with an elastic neckline - this lets me wear the shirt a few different ways.

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