1970s Style with the Rugby Shirt

Rigidly reserving things only for their original intended purpose is for the short of sight and narrow of mind. The telephone was originally an instrument of business; what early adopter could foresee that in 2013 a phone would be something you carry in your pocket and use primarily to photograph yourself? Likewise, the rugby shirt, a garment designed for the pitch, over time found new homes on college campuses, in the mountains of California, and eventually in the dresser drawers of thousands of men who wouldn’t know a scrum from shinola.

Origins

The basic, classic rugby is a heavyweight, knit cotton jersey shirt, often with ribbed cuffs, and a placket and collar of white cotton twill, usually fastened with rubber buttons—less likely to tear off during rough play. (This is a sport that considers binding your ears to your head with electrical tape a form of protection.) That contrast collar and placket are largely what differentiate the rugby shirt from any general long-sleeved polo shirt—but reasonable people disagree. Rugby players often prefer a slimmer fit; modern rugby shirts are constructed of synthetic fabric and cut very slim to frustrate potential tacklers looking to grab hold. They’re very similar to current professional soccer jerseys. In its early days in the 19th century, rugby was played at British public (i.e., very much private) schools, and shirts were often striped with “hoops” in the school’s colors to identify teams, hence the bold stripes on many casual rugby shirts.

Although it’s hard to point to a specific moment when the rugby shirt made the leap to casual, nonsport wear, it was probably in the middle of the 20th century, when the game itself experienced a surge in popularity on stateside campuses. Eventually the rugby became a standard item in 1980s L.L. Bean and Land’s End catalogs. In the 2000s, Ralph Lauren named an entire label Rugby (RIP). Overlogoed versions, polluted with embroidery and superfluous stitching, have been common since the second coming of Abercrombie and Fitch.

Chouinard’s Rugby

Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard is credited with bringing the rugby shirt to the mountains, where in the 1960s a climbing boom was just beginning to spur the growth of a new industry of gear. Rugby shirts were comfortable and elastic enough for freedom of movement when climbing, and the collar kept heavy climbing ropes, slung across the body, from chafing necks. Plus, the bright, broad stripes looked fantastic. Chouinard began carrying the shirts under his original gear label, Great Pacific Iron Works, as “the most practical shirts we have found for rock climbing.” (The black-and-white image above comes from one of GPIW’s beautiful 1970s catalogs, in which rugby shirts were $12 to $16, or about $50 to $70 today.)

I prefer a plain or striped rugby in the style of Chouinard’s, with the traditional twill collar and ribbed cuffs. For me they’re off-duty wear—I would hesitate to wear one with a sportcoat or real trousers. Heavy corduroys, canvas pants, or denim match the heft of the jersey fabric and are seasonally appropriate in the chilly months when rugby shirts are most often worn.

Sources

Fortunately, well-made rugby shirts are affordable, although fitted versions are less common. Columbia Knit supplied a number of 1980s labels with USA-made rugby shirts, and still makes a nice rugby for as little as $30 (even less if you order a shirt of mixed up remainder fabric). Columbia Knit’s shirts are generously sized and drop shouldered—the shoulder seam will not fall at the edge of your shoulder, but high on your upper arm. Barbarian has a good reputation (I have not handled their shirts, which are made in Canada), and their versions run about $50. Land’s End still sells rugby shirts, but they’re imported, and classified by one reviewer as “roomy and stylish.”  Kent Wang's modified rugby is $85. Ralph Lauren’s custom fit is probably the most reasonably priced, reliably slim fitting option at $100. Of course, it has a Polo pony embroidered on the chest. Gant, which has a line called Rugger, sells a fitted version with a minimal logo.

Rugby shirts are of course fall/winter items and most stores are now just getting fall/winter clothing on the shelves, so expect to see more options soon. In recent years, Archival Clothing, Jack Spade, Brooks Brothers Black Fleece, and Brunello Cucinelli, among others, have offered attractive versions. If you see any particularly great ones on the market, let us know.

-Pete

via Where Is The Cool?
The Rugby Shirt
A lot of folks have been emailing looking for alternatives to t-shirts and oxfords for casual wear.  So let me take this opportunity to endorse the rugby shirt.
Like a lot of casual wear, the rugby shirt grew out of sporting clothing - they were, in fact, for playing rugby.  Of course, the rugby shirt you might buy at a Ralph Lauren store in Boston is quite different from the jersey a rugby union player wears in Melbourne.  (Please don’t correct me if that is not a thing that happens in Melbourne, rugby fans and Melbournians).
The rugby shirt is rugged, but it retains a bit of gentility.  It’s also often long-sleeved, and thus a great alternative to the polo for cooler times of year (fall through spring, essentially).  Find one with a good fit, pair it with a great pair of jeans, and you’ll look like you’re put together despite not trying to be put together at all.

I like this one from Lands’ End Canvas a lot, and it goes for a very reasonable price, to boot.  And of course Polo has quajillions.  Unless you’re a rugby fan, I’d recommend you stay away from crests and logos and stick with simple color combos in solids and bold stripes.

This jersey cotton one, from Alternative Apparel, is my favorite, though.  It comes in a few colors, but I like heather gray the best.  Alternative stuff is insanely soft and comfortable, and the fit is great, too.  It retails for $60, which is a fair bit of money… but it just so happens that because I use Alternative blanks for printing Sound of Young America t-shirts, I have a wholesale account with them.
So, how about this?  If we can get together 12 people who want to buy them, how about $39 each + $5 first-class shipping in the US?  I’d be willing to do the packing and so on.  If there’s a good response, maybe I can do this with Alternative every other month or so.  I love their stuff (for gentlemen and ladies) and my wife and I own a lot of it.
So…
If you’re in, email contact@putthison.com with how many of what you want in what color and what size.  If we get a dozen emails, I’ll put in the order this week and ship them out when they arrive.  I’m guessing we’ll be able to get them out in early January.  (And if there’s something else you want from AA, knock 20% off the retail price and that’s what I’ll charge ya plus $10 for shipping for your whole order - let me know the item number, eg: “aa1352”.)
If we can’t get enough people together, a failed but noble experiment :).

The Rugby Shirt

A lot of folks have been emailing looking for alternatives to t-shirts and oxfords for casual wear.  So let me take this opportunity to endorse the rugby shirt.

Like a lot of casual wear, the rugby shirt grew out of sporting clothing - they were, in fact, for playing rugby.  Of course, the rugby shirt you might buy at a Ralph Lauren store in Boston is quite different from the jersey a rugby union player wears in Melbourne.  (Please don’t correct me if that is not a thing that happens in Melbourne, rugby fans and Melbournians).

The rugby shirt is rugged, but it retains a bit of gentility.  It’s also often long-sleeved, and thus a great alternative to the polo for cooler times of year (fall through spring, essentially).  Find one with a good fit, pair it with a great pair of jeans, and you’ll look like you’re put together despite not trying to be put together at all.

I like this one from Lands’ End Canvas a lot, and it goes for a very reasonable price, to boot.  And of course Polo has quajillions.  Unless you’re a rugby fan, I’d recommend you stay away from crests and logos and stick with simple color combos in solids and bold stripes.

This jersey cotton one, from Alternative Apparel, is my favorite, though.  It comes in a few colors, but I like heather gray the best.  Alternative stuff is insanely soft and comfortable, and the fit is great, too.  It retails for $60, which is a fair bit of money… but it just so happens that because I use Alternative blanks for printing Sound of Young America t-shirts, I have a wholesale account with them.

So, how about this?  If we can get together 12 people who want to buy them, how about $39 each + $5 first-class shipping in the US?  I’d be willing to do the packing and so on.  If there’s a good response, maybe I can do this with Alternative every other month or so.  I love their stuff (for gentlemen and ladies) and my wife and I own a lot of it.

So…

If you’re in, email contact@putthison.com with how many of what you want in what color and what size.  If we get a dozen emails, I’ll put in the order this week and ship them out when they arrive.  I’m guessing we’ll be able to get them out in early January.  (And if there’s something else you want from AA, knock 20% off the retail price and that’s what I’ll charge ya plus $10 for shipping for your whole order - let me know the item number, eg: “aa1352”.)

If we can’t get enough people together, a failed but noble experiment :).