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The iconic rugby shirt!

With the Six Nations well underway, Bridget Devine looks at the iconic shirt that we all know and love.

In honour of the 2024 Guinness Six Nations Rugby currently taking place, it is only right to take a look at the iconic rugby shirt and how it has become a high street fashion staple.

As someone who isn’t a huge fan of rugby I won’t pretend I know much about the technical side of the sport, however it’s the rugby shirt that we are interested in and how it has evolved as a fashion symbol.

For some the rugby shirt might seem gimmicky like the ones you see in Dublin airport emblazoned with the Guinness logo, for others it’s something you might see elderly generations wearing down the pub, and of course for rugby players, it’s an essential part of their kit. But for fashion it’s much more than you might realise.

It’s hard to pinpoint where the sport originated but evidence shows the sport was first played in the early 1800’s at Rugby School, hence the name. Since then it has become a sport loved by many all over the world and is a cherished part of England’s sporting history.

The kit in the early days featured wool jumpers, often embroidered with the team’s crest, paired with white trousers. Back in the day, wool was a popular fabric for most sports until it quickly became apparent it didn’t provide maximum comfort nor function for the wearer.

Not long after, the boom in the cotton industry meant cotton fabrics became the new wool and the rugby shirt evolved. It had long sleeves made from thick yet breathable cotton fabric that had a shirt collar and a few buttons. Most were striped or one solid colour that represented the rugby team and soon enough the iconic rugby shirt that we know today was born.

The rugby shirt really gained prominence in mainstream high street fashion when Polo Ralph Lauren created their version of the rugby shirt and sold it all over the country.
It’s rather ironic though as the polo shirt often gets mixed up with the rugby shirt due to the similar fabrics, features and collars – so just to clarify we aren’t talking about the short sleeve fitted polo’s you would see on an equestrian, but the long sleeve straight fit striped jerseys worn by rugby players throughout the 20th century.

In the 1950’s the garment became fashionable for preppy university students who wanted to represent their college teams, not just on the pitch. After that in the 60’s and 70’s celebrities adopted the style too.

Mick Jagger and David Hockney were not just pioneers in art and music but also in styling the striped rugby shirt as an everyday staple. Both were often photographed wearing the style which gave the rugby shirt a much cooler, effortless status in the fashion world. Since then fashion brands all over the world, like Polo Ralph Lauren, Barbarian and Crew, have produced rugby shirts for both men and women to wear as part of their everyday wardrobe.

But the question is where is the rugby shirt now and, with the exception of rugby players themselves, who is still wearing it?

Recently, fashion has seen a resurgence of the 1970’s whether that’s afghan coats or platform boots, vintage styles are becoming increasingly popular. Not to mention the popularity of shopping second hand vintage for environmental reasons and often for financial reasons, with the constantly rising cost of living, there’s every reason to be buying from vintage stores.

Newly released films such as Saltburn have been all the rage recently, at least from a fashion point of view, with the awful but brilliant early 2000’s fashion. The male characters, wealthy Oxford university students, are seen wearing Abercrombie & Fitch rugby polos and Ralph Lauren shirts.

Meanwhile during 2024 Fashion Week, brands like Fendi and Armani have been rocking the ‘Grandpacore’ trend while Louis Vuitton and Acne Studios are bringing back Y2K nostalgia. It just so happens the rugby shirt fits into both these categories so long as it’s styled with baggy jeans or oversized knitwear. Harry Styles recently wore a rugby shirt style knit that was rather like one the Princess of Wales wore in the 80’s. Kendall Jenner, Rihanna and Hailey Bieber have also been wearing the rugby shirt in recent years, albeit designer rugby shirts that will set you back £500!

The bottom line is the rugby shirt is seeing a revival as we speak and it would be criminal not to wear it this February. Swap a plain t-shirt for a rugby shirt for the added colour and dimension it gives to an outfit, this goes for both men and women.

Try and find a vintage rugby shirt from your favourite team or get a new one from Ralph Lauren to channel your inner preppy student! However you wear it is up to you, but it’s a great way to incorporate classic athleisure into your 2024 wardrobe.

Below are a few options that I would suggest if I have successfully persuaded you to invest in one, and if you have one already, think about how you can style it in a modern way!

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