Three 6 Mafia asking you to put the money in their hands / Screenshot via YouTube
This article is part of 2005 Week on Noisey, where we revist all the best and worst pop culture relics from a decade ago.
It was 2005, and the archetypal douchebag was flying high. Preppy style was seeing a boom. “Preppy is back,” a summer 2004 AP article proclaimed, noting that retailers like J. Crew, American Eagle, and Abercrombie & Fitch were incorporating more classic prep designs and polos into their collections. In particular, Abercrombie & Fitch, bouncing back from a $40 million class action discrimination lawsuit, was having its moment. A New York Times review of the company’s Fifth Avenue flagship store, which opened in the fall of 2005, quipped “never has a store that sells bluejeans and T-shirts more closely resembled a hookup joint,” concluding it resembled “Marquee without the cocktails.” There had hardly been a better time to be someone who sucked. Fortunately, there had hardly been a better time to identify someone who sucked, either. There was a uniform, and it involved at least one popped collar, perhaps even two.
The popped collar wasn’t new, but it began to reach peak fraturation (frat saturation) that year. “All I see are popped collars,” a Harvard Crimson editorial (full of requisite Princeton slander) from 2005 reads. “I’m sitting in a cottage on Nantucket right now, watching 13-year-old collar poppers skipping merrily down the pebbled roads.” And the trend was spreading: “Although it might seem like it is only preppy frat boys who are ‘popping,’ it's not,” an article in the Elon University Pendulum noted. “The trend has spread to all different ages and groups around campus. Whether you are going to the Kangaroo to pump gas or to the bar on a Saturday night it has become acceptable to pop your collar.” As Alex Slack, the author of the Harvard Crimson essay noted, the trend’s resurgence was at least partially indebted to the popularity of songs like E-40’s “Pop Ya Collar” and Usher’s song of the same name. But it had drifted away from these cherished roots.
“Is it just me or have you seen these kids wearing two polo shirts at once with both of the collars popped, thinking it's like extra preppy or something” a skeptical post in such a prep-friendly milieu as the Inside Lacrosse forums asked. Popped collars were, increasingly, a sign you sucked. “Not all douchebags pop their collar,” College Humor declared over a meme of Saddam Hussein, "but all people with popped collars are douchebags.” The popped collar was a source of intense debate. Details and GQ weighed in against it (the latter with the caveat that it was OK on the golf course and tennis court), but, obviously, they were doing so in reaction to the fact that the trend was everywhere.
Juicy J demonstrates the collar pop, sans collar / Screenshot via YouTube
And then, that September, Three 6 Mafia put out their groundbreaking album Most Known Unknown.
On it was a song called “Poppin’ My Collar.” You’ve heard it. The hook is probably the first thing you think of now when you hear that phrase: “ever since I can remember I’ve been popping my collar / popping, popping my collar.” It rules. Like the album’s other breakout single, “Stay Fly,” it is an instruction manual for being sweet. See Project Pat’s description of popped collar couture: “I'm dirty southern / French braids, gold teeth / I'm out here making sense / Plus, I'm out here making dollars / I keep a bad broad, though / And a popped collar.” Suddenly, the popped collar was back to being something that didn’t only belong in Ivy League hallways and among 14-year-olds at the country club. It was grimy Tennesee shit. It was real life shit. It was hang out and smoke weed and listen to Willie Hutch (who the song sampled) shit. Even though the frat boys latched onto the song, sure they’d found their anthem, it pointed out that, as most with many things prep school kids adore, someone else did it first and did it better. Plus, Three 6 argued you could pop any collar, not just the one on your salmon polo. Although, to be fair, the pink polo one could be cool if you were doing it because of Kanye—who, in typically ahead-of-his-time fashion, makes a cameo in the “Poppin My Collar” video and takes a selfie with a disposable camera (let's not forget that Ye's first single referenced Three 6).
Kanye's selfie cameo / Screenshot via YouTube
“Poppin’ My Collar” turned the phrase into a state of mind—as evidenced by the fact that no one in the video for it actually pops their collar. In fact, Juicy J and DJ Paul taught us how to pop our collars while wearing T-shirts, and Crunchy Black did it with a polo buttoned up all the way, collar down (the video does have some snapshots of the guys as kids with popped collars). “Poppin’ My Collar” took the concept of collar popping back form the type of kids who made fun of you for not going to private school. As we cruised into 2006, the popped collar was a gesture from the song, something bigger than a marketing ploy in an Abercrombie ad. It couldn’t be some dickhead's uniform when every time you went out the song would come on and everyone would follow the instructions. You couldn't hate popping your collar anymore because you were doing it better than the preps. Popping your collar became a celebration. Three 6 Mafia deservedly, finally, became mainstream stars. And, ever since, as far as any of us can remember, we’ve known exactly what to do. We'd better put some money in their hands.
Kyle Kramer's only style icon is DJ Paul. Follow him on Twitter.