Arrow Collar Man

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Arrow Collar Man

The advertising icon of the Cluett, Peabody & Company's line of Arrow shirts from 1905 to 1930 was the era's symbol for the ideal athletic, austere, confident American man. He was the somewhat eroticized male counterpart to Charles Dana Gibson's equally emblematic and elegant all-American woman. No less a cultural spokesman than Theodore Roosevelt considered him to be a superb portrait of "the common man," although admittedly an Anglo-Saxon version of it that suited the times. This Arrow Collar Man was the inspiration of J(oseph) C(hristian) Leyendecker (1874-1951), the foremost American magazine illustrator of the first four decades of the twentieth century.

Born in Germany but emigrating at age eight with his parents, Leyendecker was trained at the Art Institute of Chicago and in Paris. He worked on advertising campaigns for Kuppenheimer suits as well as other products and did cover art for Collier's and the Saturday Evening Post. In that last role, he was the direct predecessor and a major influence on a near-contemporary illustrator, Norman Rockwell, who idolized his work.

The Arrow Man ads sold more than 400 styles of detachable shirt collars with images of an insouciant, aquiline-nosed young man, often depicted in vigorous stances or with the jaunty prop of a pipe. Leyendecker's figures were characterized by their glistening, polished appearance, indicating a healthy athletic glow. After World War I, when soldiers learned the practicality of attached collars, Leyendecker switched to doing ads for Arrow's new line of shirts.

The generic Arrow Collar Man received more fan mail in the 1920s (sent to corporate headquarters) than Rudolph Valentino or any other male film star of the era. In 1920, approximately seventeen thousand love letters arrived a week, and there was a Broadway play about him as well as a surfeit of popular songs and poems.

Leyendecker sometimes used future film stars such as John Barrymore, Fredric March, Brian Donlevy, Jack Mulhall, and his good friend Neil Hamilton as models. A perfectionist in his craft, Leyendecker always preferred to work from live figures rather than from photographs, as Rockwell and others sometimes did. But the illustrator's first, most important, and enduring muse for the Arrow ads was Charles Beach. After a meeting in 1901, Beach became Leyendecker's companion, housemate, and business manager for close to fifty years, a personal and professional relationship ended only by Leyendecker's death at his estate in New Rochelle, New York.

The Arrow contract, as well as those with other clothiers, ended soon after the onset of the Great Depression. The image of the ruddy-complexioned, sophisticated young man, however, did not soon fade in the popular mind. A teasing ad in the Saturday Evening Post on February 18, 1939, queried, "Whatever Became of the 'Arrow Collar Man'?… Though he passed from our advertising some years ago, he is still very much with us…. [Today's man dressed in an Arrow shirt] is just as much an embodiment of smartness as that gleaming Adonis was in his heyday."

Perhaps his era had passed, for the Arrow Man had reflected the education, position, breeding, and even ennui that figured so prominently in the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald during the previous decade. Leyendecker continued with his magazine illustrations, but a change in the editorial board at the Saturday Evening Post in the late 1930s resulted in his gradual fall from grace. Leyendecker's last cover for that publication appeared on January 2, 1943. The mantle then rested permanently upon Norman Rockwell, who fittingly served as one of the pallbearers at Leyendecker's funeral fewer than ten years later.

—Frederick J. Augustyn, Jr.

Further Reading:

Rockwell, Norman. Norman Rockwell: My Adventures as an Illustrator. New York, Curtis Publishing, 1979.

Schau, Michael. J. C. Leyendecker. New York, Watson-Guptill Publications, 1974.