When did we first start wearing the shirt?

Great Gatsby
A round collar “Great Gatsby” being worn on the television series “Boardwalk Empire”.

Man has worn shirts before the middle ages but women have only worn shirts since 1860. The first shirts were made out of linen with no collar or cuffs and were either worn as night gowns or under garments. During the 18th century the shirt became more than an undergarment with the collar growing to enormous proportions with elaborate decorations.

In this early times there was no mass productions and the shirt was purchased from the tailor. Jabots are shirts with long neck thrills and they are worn by simply being pulled over one’s head. In 1827 the detachable collar was invented by Hannah Montague as a way of making washing her husband’s shirts easier. Double cuffs started to appear in the 19th century. Previously the ends of the arms were embroidered with lace. Now French, or double cuffs were used as a way to lessen washing. To hide a stain the shirt could be folded in the appropriate manner. The use of cufflinks soon followed.

In 1871 Brown, Davis and Co patented a shirt that had buttons all the way down to the chest and was known as the “coat style” shirt, as it was not put on by pulling over the head. During this period it was manufactured mainly in white and was seen as a shirt for the middle classes as they were the only people who could afford to wash it so regularly.

From this style the men’s button down shirt soon appeared which was simply a couple of buttons fixing down the collars. They were actually more commonly known as polo shirts and were patented by the Brooks Brothers in 1896. The original aim was for players to use them as it stopped the collars from flying into their faces. In the 1920’s the most popular formal shirts were the ones with white collars that were attached to different colored shirts. They were either rounded collars or pointed collars attached to either plain colored shirts or striped shirts. These were to be known as the “Great Gatsby” style of shirt.

Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando and his t-shirt in “A Streetcar Named Desire”

During this time the sportsman’s flannel shirt and the sleeveless shirt started to become popular and would continue to be worn until the start of the Second World War. During the 1930’s the shirt with the fixed collar became a permanent fixture with the population and has been part of everyday life ever since. Naturally over time there has been adjustments in styles that has comes and gone with different fashions.

In the 1950’s button down shirts became the trend both for formal and casual wear. There were now brighter colors especially in plaid and short sleeved shirts but were now seen as the shirt to be seen in bot in and out of work. In 1951 Marlon Brandon gave the t-shirt a big debut by wearing it in his movie “A Streetcar Named Desire” and in 1954 in “The Wild One”. Previously the shirt had been worn as an undergarment by soldiers in the Second World War but here it was now being a worn in its own right. With James Dean and Elvis Presley following suit the future of this t-shirt was now guaranteed.

With Hawaiian shirts becoming more and more popular following their introduction in 1947, the youth of the 1950’s were setting the trends for future generations to follow. The brash colors of the shirts would be exploited by fashion designers as time passed into the late 20th and the early 21st centuries. Today’s shirts have been strongly influenced of these events over the past century.