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For many, the average men’s shirt is simply a garment of utility – one that is worn by men across the world for reasons of function and not necessarily fashion. But this attitude belies the hundreds of years of trends in men’s shirts. From the typical collarless shirts with billowing sleeves worn by classical painters to the modern formal button-down shirt, men’s shirts have captured the imaginations of both designers and ordinary men for generations. In the twentieth century in particular, a range of different shirt styles have proved popular with men of all ages.
One of the most important developments in men’s shirts over the last hundred years, for example, has been the invention of the polo shirt. The polo shirt, or ‘tennis shirt’, was created by legendary French tennis player Rene Lacoste in 1929 as an alternative to the stiff dress shirts and ties typical of tennis attire at the time. In the 1960s, Ralph Lauren propelled the polo shirt to new heights as a prominent item in his ‘Polo’ collection; and since this time the polo shirt has become so popular that it is now a standard category of clothing – although it has fallen out of favour with most tennis players.
The granddad shirt has also been a long lasting trend in men’s shirts in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. These collarless shirts have been popular with men in warm countries for decades and have seen a variety of incarnations throughout the years. The Nehru Jacket, for instance, is a South Asian version of the modern granddad shirt that was popularised by the first Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in the 1950s and early 1960s, and has since been prominently worn by a number of celebrities, from the likes of Sammy Davis Jr to Steven Segal. Today’s granddad shirt preys on bright colours and an ethno-bohemian vibe that appeals to a variety of men’s fashion trends – from festival clothing to smart casual summer wear.
The button-down shirt has also been one of the most influential men’s shirts in fashion history – but memories of how it was created tend to be somewhat hazy. Some fashion experts claim that the button-down collar shirt was invented by an American shirt manufacturer who was inspired by an English polo match, in which players had their collars clipped down to avoid flapping in the wind. Others say that button-down shirts were created in New York, when their inventor (as yet anonymous) attached his collar to his shirt with buttons in a fit of annoyance at the oncoming wind.
But whatever the origin of the button-down shirt, its impact on the men’s shirt industry has been historic, as button down shirts are now worn in both formal and casual contexts. Today, short-sleeved men’s shirts are often worn with skinny jeans, large belts and tailored waistcoats for a fresh and informal look that still exudes smart chic. And with men’s shirts available in a variety of colours – from grey to raspberry – and in a variety of floral and striped patterns, it’s clear that evolving trends in men’s fashion are far from over.
write by Nicole Putt