The history of the shirt dates back to 3000 BC, with historians widely identifying it as one of the oldest preserved garments in the world. The modern shirt, however, has hardly any resemblance to this older version…
The shirt, an integral part of men’s wardrobe, is widely considered a timeless apparel partner of men. In this light, it is interesting to review how dress shirt trends have evolved over the years. The history of the shirt dates back to 3000 BC, with historians widely identifying it as one of the oldest preserved garments in the world. The modern shirt, however, has hardly any resemblance to this older version.
Originally, shirts were intended as a form of underwear to protect frocks and waistcoats from soil and sweat. This concealed, vest-like nature of the shirt, never allowed it to be a statement of fashion.
The Middle Ages witnessed with a version of the shirt which had a separate cuﬀ and collar. This collar was known as ‘Ruﬀ’ and took many meters of fabric to make.
Styles shifted during the Medieval era and then again during the Renaissance. Swordsman shirts, ruﬄed collar shirts and Scottish shirts marked these periods in history.
It was in the 19th Century that George Bryan ‘Beau’ Brummell (1778-1840) marked his presence in history. Brummel was an arbiter of style and wit in London. The height of Brummell’s fame was his lasting mark on menswear. He promoted a completely new style of dress for men, which were at that time flamboyant, heavily influenced by the French and involved wearing wigs, white hair powder, perfume, elaborate silks. Brummell replaced this with long trousers worn with boots, coats without too much ornamentation, with a buﬀ waistcoat and a crisp, oﬀ-white, linen shirt with a white cravat.
So profound was his impact on menswear that a statue of Brummel was erected on London’s famous shirt street – Jermyn Street.
Over 30 years after Brummell’s death, in 1871, the shirt came to take on the form we’re familiar with today. The shirt had been established as piece of outer clothing and buttons were incorporated into the design for the first time. Brown Davis and co. of Aldermanbury registered the first shirt with buttons all the way down the breast.
Until the end of the 19th Century, the white shirt was the epitome of elegance only those with enough money could aﬀord – mostly since these needed to be washed and changed frequently. The white shirt thus evolved as the identity of noble and wealthy men.
The White Shirt
Striped shirts also came into fashion after the 19th Century. However, patterned shirts – colorful shirts with white collars – were looked upon with great suspicion with people thinking that they were worn in order to overlook the lack of cleanliness.
By the 20th Century, however, specifically in the 1920s, it became the norm for most men to own and wear white shirts. Around this time, the sky-blue shirt also came into the picture and became a part of formal wear. 1924 first recorded use of the term ‘blue collar worker’. The single-color dress shirt became the top choice for professional daywear. Meanwhile, the old standard, in which the shirt body contrasted with a white collar and cuﬀs, remained the go-to for formal wear.
Up to the 19th Century, the versions of the standup collar held sway, with the size of the neck tie determining the width of collar. The standup collar was gradually supplanted by the turndown collar somewhere around the 1930s. The standup collar has since only been worn with tuxedos and tailcoats. Detachable versions of both the standup and turndown collars were also available during that era.
The detachable collar version had the advantage that a collar could be taken oﬀ
and washed daily, while rest of the shirt was spared this treatment. However, men found this task of buttoning and unbuttoning very laborious. During that era, traditional men’s shirt did not have breast pockets, another mark of the lack of vision as far as functionality was concerned.
Working Class Wardrobe Staples
In 1950, short sleeved dress shirts came on the scenes. They were paired with a necktie and became very popular with NASA professionals.
In the 1900s another phenomenon, inspired by the uniforms of the working class in South America, appeared – Cuban collar shirts. They took the menswear fashion space by storm in the ‘50s, becoming a wardrobe staple of the decade. Suburban working dads, trendy teens and even celebrities like Elvis Presley wore Cuban collared shirts.
The ‘60s rolled around and they reflected shirts which favoured pastels and
featured larger collars.
During this time, men sported large collared, button-down dress shirts under suit jackets or blazers. Very few men wore these shirts without some kind of overcoat even though shirts had become perfectly acceptable, an important part of men’s fashion.
Post the 19th Century, a new trend of striped and patterned shirts emerged. Cotton Batiste, Poplin, Oxford, Royal Oxford, Sea Island, Ribbed Twill, Pinpoint, Herringbone, Brushed Cotton, Linen and Silk were popularly used to design classic shirts.
Trends at the Turn of the Century
In the 20th Century, specifically the 1980’s, Brooks Brothers emerged with a shirt design which was considered a winning proposition – the button down collar. The design was inspired by an observation made by John E Brooks during a polo match in England. He saw that the tips of polo shirt collars were pinned down with tiny buttons that stopped them from flapping on player’s faces. This became style a vital part of Brooks Brothers’ button-down Polo Shirt range.
Post this, a series on television on the recall of a 1980s English country vet called James Herriot served to create a trend called Tattersall Check. This was a creamy white or beige coloured shirt with mesh checks of dark brown, green, burgundy, blue or black.
For many years this was referred to as an essential component of the classic weekend outfit. This later became a symbol of the English rural life. These shirts were also a favourites of academics working at Oxford and Cambridge as well as Ivy League universities.
The Millennium Shirts
In the 2000s, Luca Faloni, founder of his eponymous shirt company, Luca Faloni, revamped the shirt with the introduction of the Paramontura collar – a single-piece collar, very attractive in its casual appearance – for lasting shape. He also introduced mother of pearl buttons.
Luca Faloni grew up in Italy surrounded by a strong culture of artisanal craftsmanship and quality of fabrics. It was only when he moved abroad, that he realised the quality and style he took for granted was something rare and less accessible elsewhere. He also noticed that many Italian brands were abandoning the local artisans, in favour of production in other countries, often compromising on quality.
The idea was born to fuse the exceptional Italian craftsmanship and style, with modern distribution channels, to make great products easily available worldwide and provide stronger value to the customer.
The years rolled by with various shirt trends coming and going, most too quick to make lasting impressions. It was in 2016 that there was a shift to the retro. The year looked back at the shirts of 1950s, emphasizing the Cuban collar with bold looks, dandy scarfs and cowboy shirts, with hefty looks.
In 2017, collarless shirts – also referred to as grandfather shirts or granddad shirts – once again became the common item in men’s wardrobes. Some embraced this old school industrial worker vibe, while others preferred the heritage of the Indian kurta.
With 2018 came Hawaiian shirts and their vibrant, bold and nature-inspired prints. Another trend that came centerstage was camouflage with a tropical detail.
The forecast and runway reviews have shown a mix of styles ranging from volume to slim, to casual and even executive, in both dark and light shades. The trends have almost been a push and pull between what men feel and what they have to be as per society.
Promo Styl – a consulting firm that oﬀers global expertise in the areas of branding, brand positioning, creation, communication and retail – also forecasts 2019-2020 trends which include shirts with classical volume, sophisticated looks and intricate details like covered buttons, nerd shirt with a pen pocket, shirt with basic button down collars and small hand drawn motifs paired with a square tie and slip on shirts with a round collar in silky, velvety fabrics with floral motifs and elegantly textured fabrics.