Oh rugger, a sport so English we’d play it on crumpets in the Queen’s honour if we could. Granted, we’re not the best at it any more but when it comes to rugby style, well at least that is still something we can claim for our own. And the rugby shirt can be the creative outside-half of your wardrobe, posh and preppy if that’s your thing but just as happy playing with urban streetwear looks.
The jersey has come a long way. Rugby was started in 1823, when William Webb Ellis, a student at Rugby School first ran with a leather ball during a game of footie. The sport grew in the British public school system and as a way to differentiate teams uniforms were created.
The first rugby uniform was a collared dress shirt worn with a bow tie, but the tails were found to be too easy to grab hold of. Buttons were also taken off the front lest they scratch another player’s face. The wool jumpers that succeeded the dress shirts also failed to be fit for purpose with the cloth becoming heavy in the wet British winter so the more breathable cotton was chosen as the de facto choice of fabric.
The collar remained and bold stripes came into play with horizontal lines reigning (vertical stripes were already taken by footballers). As time went by the stiff collars became less prominent than your typical dress shirt in an attempt to prevent a pesky prop clinging onto them for dear life, which takes us pretty much up to the modern version of the rugby shirt (ignoring the skin tight sausage cases the pros play in these days).
The Rugby Shirt As Fashion
People didn’t cotton onto the rugby shirt as a fashion piece until over a century later. It was the 1950s as the now-timeless preppy wardrobe was first being formulated. A thicker alternative to the polo shirt, American teens began wearing rugby shirts as a way of showing off their athleticism while still keeping their look tidy (we are about 40 years off sweatpants as fashion here).
Since then the shirt has dipped in and out of fashion along with other preppy staples like the sweatshirt, peaking in the 1980s and 1990s as a symbol of old money yuppiness (which was then hijacked by subversive hip-hop stars) before returning big time this summer season.
How To Style Them Today
“Rugby shirts first piqued my interest when I saw Gucci revisit them for their SS18 pre-collection,” says Chris Hobbs, Mens Fashion Editor at Matchesfashion.com. “In thick bold stripes, they had an easy David Hockney vibe about them. I paired it with baggy rolled up vintage Levi’s and loafers in a louche artist-in-his-studio manner but equally, I think they look great with a pair of tailored trousers and sneakers. I’m also not adverse to a turned up collar.”
You can also try wearing it under a blazer as an easy alternative to a normal button down shirt. And side-stepping away from its traditional, buttoned-up origins, the rugby shirt has also been greeted with open arms by the streetwear community, with the loose and relaxed shape suiting the baggier streetwear fit, although we would stay away from wearing one with joggers – the skiving lectures until the next rugby social look was never en vogue.
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