Clothing starch or laundry starch is a liquid that is prepared by mixing a vegetable starch in water (earlier preparations also had to be boiled), and is used in the laundering of clothes. During the 19th century and early 20th century, it was stylish to stiffen the collars and sleeves of mens shirts and the ruffles of girls petticoats by applying starch to them as the clean clothes were being ironed.
Aside from the smooth, crisp edges it gave to clothing, it served a practical purpose as well. Dirt and sweat from a persons neck and wrists would stick to the starch rather than fibers of the clothing, and would easily wash away along with the starch. Then, after each laundering, the starch would be reapplied.