Following on from my last article on the sports jacket, our recent profiling of the great Michael Bastian and with all this talk of sportswear having an increasing influence within menswear this season, there isn’t a better time to introduce to you another garment which has true sporting heritage; The Rugby Shirt.
I never usually start an article off with a lie, so I’ll try my best to honest from the start. I love rugby – I spent my teenage years playing it 5 days a week until I was forced out by a nasty PCL injury. My friends and I used to pretty much exclusively wear rugby shirts whenever non-school uniform day or the weekend rolled around. In fact I’m pretty sure between all of us we had every international jersey there was. So I tend to look back on this particular garment with fondness and a lot of great memories.
The same cannot be said for others out there. For some, this piece of menswear is the sign of the non-sartorial man; usually paired with similarly ill-fitted jeans and shoes, creating an extremely scruffy appearance. In short, lazy, world-weary Dads across the UK can be seen in one. And this is generally a stereotype we style conscious beings try to avoid.
But does it have to be this way? We all know that fashion is constantly taking things from the past and updating them to appear modern and ‘in style’ – the same can said for the rugby shirt. U.S East Coast college guys, who fancied themselves a bit cosmopolitan in their sporting preoccupations, would adopt the rugby shirt as casual campus wear.
So for designers such as GANT, the aforementioned Michael Bastian, Ralph Lauren and others who take quite a bit of inspiration from those particular characters and their clothing choices, the rugby is back in and has never been better.
The great thing about the rugby shirt is its versatility and construction. In the beginning, rugby players simply wore their everyday clothes. One famous Irish team captain actually played with his monocle firmly in place. But soon it became clear that tweed vests, suit trousers and monocles kind of got in the way of the action.
Football was coming to a similar point as well, and the two sports came to an aesthetic agreement: Rugby would identify itself with horizontal stripes, football with vertical. Hence, the rugby shirt was born, with its five or six hoops, breathable cotton construction, shortened collars (to give tacklers less to grab) and rubber buttons to withstand the hardest of rucks and mauls.
As you can see, the rugby shirt was made specifically to take a battering on the pitch – so you don’t have worry about its durability and being able to cope with your everyday activities. You know, unless you fight crime for a living or something.
Most updated rugby tops now feature a slimmer fit and come in an array of colours. When it comes to choosing one, opt for high armholes, cut slim in the sides and colours that either work tonally or complement each other. Mine is from GANT and comes in a red and blue hoop pattern – as you will see in the lookbooks below, this combination has become somewhat iconic.
Of course, with its fashion roots firmly within the American Prep scene, you have a ready made partner to the rugby shirt in the form of the sports jacket or varsity jacket. These items are often paired together in campaign images by Gant, whilst other stereotypical Preppy pieces will also compliment it well – think pastel shades, chinos and loafers.
However, due to its versatility, you can wear one whenever and wherever you like. Layer it over an Oxford cloth shirt with some jeans. Use it under your denim jacket for some nice texture contrast. Or simply just wear it by itself with a pair of tweed trousers and loafers. The more you experiment, the more versatile you’ll find it to be.
I wear mine all the time with my charcoal grey wool trousers and a white cable-knit shawl cardigan I picked up in the sales – I love the way it looks.
A man that lives and breathes American Prep, Michael Bastian can often be seen sporting the rugby shirt, and you will always find them in his collections. A big fan of layering them over shirts, he also pairs them with smarter pieces like trousers and sports jackets.
So there you have it guys, hopefully enough words and pictures to persuade you to try out one of my all time favourite pieces of menswear.
Until next week,
Main Image Credit: TwoInchCuffs.com
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