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CULT ITEM: RUGBY SHIRT
By Sam Higgins, 25 March 2017
While the ideas fashion borrows from sport are widespread and varied, there aren’t many stronger sports-inspired statements than donning a classic rugby shirt. From field to fashion week, nothing has been converted so brilliantly since Stephen Larkham's famous 48m-drop goal extra in extra time of the 1999 World Cup. So, we take a closer look at how the top became modern-day style staple.
The real thing
Unlike football shirts, which depend on branding and strong design to stand out, the rugby shirt – even in its most basic form – is one of the most recognisable sporting silhouettes. We’re not talking about the new polyester-blend shirts that stay snug to players' muscles, but the traditional, loose-fitting, long-sleeved cotton tops, which relied on bold all-over colours or simple patterns like horizontal stripes or quarters to keep each team distinctive enough from the other. The rugby shirt hasn’t changed drastically since the 19th century, but the context has shifted and its unique features – the stiff contrast collar, the thick cotton texture and clean design – have landed it in the wardrobe of various subcultures over the years.
Although the versatile piece never had strong ties to one era, the 80s saw rugby's riff on the long-sleeved polo come into its own. No longer just an oval-ball lover’s ode to his favourite team, the top became more stylised with thinner striping and a lighter texture, moving away from its British heritage. Netflix hit Stranger Things, which was soaked in 80s style, shows how striped rugby shirts were adopted as everyday school attire/monster-hunting apparel.
Since it was first played in early 1823, rugby has been synonymous with upper-class British masculinity, so it’s no surprise that the rugby shirt goes hand-in-hand with the preppy look. And it follows that the man who perhaps most epitomises timeless British style – David Beckham, of course – favours a rugby shirt, despite his professional allegiances. Here he is, clad in his own Kent & Curwen replica, sleeves hiked up, collar flipped for added nonchalance – there aren’t many traditional pieces that bring such an effortlessly cool edge.