The recent Rugby World Cup captivated five continents—and left North America puzzled over terms like “gain line” and “loose head.” But as we watched the New Zealand All Blacks squeak past France to claim the crown, we noticed something else: No one was actually wearing a rugby shirt. Like many sports’ uniforms, rugby kits have embraced synthetic materials and a streamlined, modern design. No more cotton or collars on the pitch, which is a shame.
In the sport’s infancy, players simply wore their everyday clothes. One infamous Irish team captain actually played with his monocle firmly in place. But at some point it dawned on everyone that tweed vests, plus fours, and monocles kind of got in the way of the action. Football (the global kind) was coming to the same conclusion as well, and the two sports came to an aesthetic agreement: Rugby would identify itself with horizontal stripes, football with vertical. Hence, the rugby shirt was born, with its five or six “hoops” pattern (denoting club colors), breathable cotton, shortened collars to stymie tacklers (less to grab), and rubber buttons to withstand the funny business at the bottom of the scrum, where things tend to get a little uncivilized.
Ironic then that a century or so later, East Coast college fellas—who fancied themselves a bit cosmopolitan in their sporting preoccupations—would adopt the rugby shirt as casual campus wear. For GANT Rugger, Michael Bastian, Ralph Lauren, and other designers who take quite a bit of inspiration from those particular characters and their clothing whims, it’s once again a golden age for the rugby—a golden age only enhanced by the garment’s versatility. A rugby can literally just be thrown on with nearly everything: As a layer over a crewneck, under a moleskin blazer or denim jacket, or over, well, nothing at all. So while its namesake sport may have retired the shirt from its line-up, you’d do well to make it part of yours.