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Style Advice

Why you should wear a rugby shirt off the field

Why you should wear a rugby shirt off the field

Today it’s just as common to see athletic wear outside of a sporting arena as it is inside of one. And it’s no wonder, really. Sportswear is designed for comfort, movement, and durability, which makes it an incredibly practical choice for every day. It also nails the whole laid-back aesthetic that’s taken over menswear as of late (and isn’t going anywhere soon). We owe sportswear's popularity in part to one of its earliest iterations: the rugby shirt. The iconic style with its bold contrasting stripes has been marrying function with fashion for over a century, but this wasn’t always the case. 

The origin of the rugby shirt

In the late 19th century, the way men dressed for rugby matches didn’t look too dissimilar from how they dressed off the field. The standard attire consisted of a white button-down shirt with matching trousers and a bow tie. When the white shirt couldn’t withstand the sport's relentless tackles, as well as the dirt and blood stains that ensue, the clothing evolved. The fabric was updated to more durable thick cotton and buttons were made in rubber so they wouldn’t scrape a player’s face. Eventually the shirt’s signature stripes were added as a way to distinguish teams from one another. And the only reminder of the sport’s impractical roots? A gentlemanly collar. 

Its rise in popularity 

In the 1950s, rugby players at universities began sporting their shirts around campus and to the pub, exposing it to non-players who helped popularise it off the field. Since then, many of the world’s leading brands, from Ralph Lauren to Gant, have left their mark on the sportswear staple, designing stripes of all sizes and colours, as well as other iterations that feature colour-blocking and patches.

Its pop culture appeal

Over the years, various subcultures have embraced it. In the 60s and 70s, it became a rockstar essential, thanks to Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger, who brought edge and a bit of irreverence to a style historically sported by Ivy League prepsters. In the 90s, hip-hop stars made it their own, opting for voluminous silhouettes and clashing it with other punchy pieces. 

Its icon status

Today the rugby shirt is still very much a preppy icon that always looks smart paired with a blazer and chinos. But if you’re looking for a fresh way to don the century-old style, we’d encourage you to lean into the oversized fits and lightweight fabrics that designers have been churning out. This more relaxed take on the shirt looks great with loose-fitting trousers and a pair of trainers, espcially if you keep the rest of your look neutral and allow the bright colours to stand out. You might not be ready to jump right on the field, but pretty much anywhere else is fair game.


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Words: Allison Pavlick