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White collar liner - an undying tradition

One thing that frustrates most of those who just started reenacting Soviet Army is the mandatory white collar liner. What is a collar liner? It is just a piece of white fabric, which has to be sewn to the inner side of the collar of your jacket. Why does it have to be sewn? Well, because it's a tradition. But it is not the only reason. Let's discover the history behind it

History of the collar liner

The history of this part of the wardrobe does not start in the Soviet Army. In fact, it was not adopted by the Red Army until 1935, alongside with the new standardized everyday/combat jacket. In fact it became a thing at XIII century and blah blah blah, you can read on Wikipedia.

Collar liner was used in the military for quite some time. And it was practical, since most of the uniform was made from wool, including the collar. Wool is quite a rough material, so in order to protect your neck from scratches, you would need something between the two.

Most notably, it was used in German-speaking armies of 19th and 20th century. Here is an example.

German army jacket with detachable collar liner
German army jacket with detachable collar liner

For the Soviet Army (Red Army at the time) the white collar liner became a thing in 1935 with the introduction of new type of gymnasterka.

Red Army on parade
Red Army on parade

Collar liner in the Red Army

However, this new gymnasterka was made from pure cotton, not wool. Which meant that wearing it wouldn't hurt the neck. However, it would hurt the collar itself. In Soviet Army, until its very end in 1991, the access to showers for soldiers war strongly regulated as once per week. It was called "soldiers sauna", yet despite the name it was just a shower. This situation was also true for most post-Soviet armies until quite recently.

Even more, regular soldier would only have one set of uniform at a time, and would get a new one every 6 month. Yet, he was expected to keep it in decent conditions, as disciplinary measures would be taken against him for wearing dirty or damaged clothing.

And this is where collar liner comes to help. Given that collar is the part of the jacket which is the first to wear out, collar liner helped to prologue the service life of a given jacket.

Soviet infantry conscripts
Soviet infantry conscripts

From 1935 onwards, wearing a white collar liner became compulsory and after couple of years everyone in the army became so used to it, that it was worn throughout the Second World War. The rule didn't die out after the war, however, some exceptions were made. First of all, the Uniform Regulations of 1956 introduced. They contained tropical gymnasterka, which had open collar. In couple of years time, another piece of wardrobe was introduced to tropical regions - shirt with straight cut trousers. There was no rule to attach collar liner to either of them.

Soviet conscript in tropical uniform, 1960-s
Soviet conscript in tropical uniform, 1960-s

Collar liner in late Soviet Army

The famous 1969 uniform regulations had a new type of tropical jackets. These were almost identical to regular M69 jackets, with just one exception - they had a open collar cut. For some reason, this time it became compulsory to wear it with the collar liner sewn onto it. What is interesting, is that the very first iterations of these jackets were supplied with detachable collar liners, similar to those in Wehrmacht and NVA. However, these discontinued in the very early 1970s.

vdv uniform
M69 open collar jacket with detachable collar liner

The story doesn't get any sudden turns since then. Collar liner was compulsory for both M69 and "Afghanka" uniform, as well as for camouflaged Afghankain PV and Butan colors. Most post-Soviet armies still used collar liners thought-out 1990s and 2000s and it was only discontinued very recently. Some armies continue sewing collar liners every morning, just like (almost) 100 years ago.

Soviet officer in field uniform during field training exercise
Soviet officer in field uniform during field training exercise

Rules of sewing the collar liner

The official rules have exactly two points:

  • Collar liner has to be white

  • Collar liner has to be sewn in such way, that only 1-2mm edge is visible

Well, you can try doing this. Show me what what you will get after first couple of iterations.

First of all, you might ask - where to get this so called "collar liner". Well, in the army there were two options - to buy from the military shop or to cut a piece of bed sheets. Since Soviet conscript wasn't paid too much, first option was rather unpopular. So sheets it was, even though this could lead into disciplinary trouble.

Secondly, collar liner has to be changed everyday. It had to look freshly sewn every morning, there were no exceptions to that. If a sergeant or WO would see a day-old collar liner - they would just rip it off soldier.

Third, it takes some time to perfect this skill. At first you will struggle to keep the edge even and your whole liner will have curves. But after couple of dozen times it will get better. Think about the fact, that a regular conscript would do this at least 700 times during his service.

Little advice - remember, that the circumference of the inner circle is smaller, than of the outer circle. This should help you with the curves.

collar liner
Typical problems - no visible edge on the left and curves on the right

Collar liner as art

Soviet soldiers had a lot of traditions within this tradition. For example, you were only allowed to fold the material once before sewing it to you collar. Then, after six month of service, you were allowed to fold it twice, making liner thicker. Three times after a year, and after one and a half years in the army you were on the top of the soldiers' unofficial hierarchy and you were allowed to do whatever you wanted. And that's precisely what soldiers did.

Some popular examples would include sewing a number of days left in the army in black thread. Some would use wire to make the edge more visible. Others would sew velvet so it looks more cool. The phantasy was endless in this matter.

Soviet demobilized soldier
Over the top pre-demobilization uniform modernization. Note the wired edge across the perimeter and velvet liner

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