Smart Dressing

It’s official: rugby shirts are cool again

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The sportswear staple is having a moment in menswear. Here’s five that prove it

I know what you’re thinking: ‘that’s not a headline I was expecting to read.’ I wasn’t expecting to write it any time soon, either. Personally, I’ve never deemed the rugby shirt to be a must-wear piece. I more readily associate it with torturous, freezing, mud-and-abuse-caked Saturday mornings from my distant past at school.

But, the goal posts are shifting and the rugby shirt is coming into its own as a versatile cold weather layering piece. I found myself at two chic cocktail parties last weekend, and was surprised by just how many of the stylish men in the room were (seemingly out of nowhere) wearing rugby shirts.

We’re not talking abut purely functional rugby shirts, or baggy, shapeless jerseys paired with grim beige chinos, either. Today’s preppy menswear brands are creating rugby shirts with a sophisticated edge – and if you know how to wear them they really do look sharp. Have you thought about wearing a rugby shirt over a navy or charcoal merino rollneck, for example? That’s a seriously cool look. Or, you can layer a classic plain coloured rugby with a white collar beneath a softly structured blazer as an alternative to a spread collar shirt.

You can even pop the collar and wear one over a crewneck and beneath an overcoat when it’s really cold. Give one a try if you haven’t already and I guarantee it’ll surprise you.

Kent & Curwen rugby shirts1. Kent & Curwen three lions rugby shirt

For the past few seasons, Kent & Curwen has made a point of championing retro, quintessentially English rugby shirts. Its designs range from sober, plain coloured styles to bold archive inspired hoop stripes – and pieces like this that are gently laundered for a vintage feel.

This is cut in heavy cotton jersey that feels soft, yet sturdy – the more you wash it, the more it’ll fade, too, for a well-worn aristocratic feel. The rounded penny collar is lifted directly from 1930s rugby shirts held in the house’s archives and the three lions motif is an authentic finishing touch, too. Eric Kent introduced the device to England’s football team, having lifted it from his own family’s coat of arms – who knew?

Use the dark burgundy colour to break up wintery grey and navy ensembles – try it over a dark denim shirt, worn with tapered chinos or flannel trousers. Finish with a sleek suede bomber or work jacket.

£105, shop now

Polo Ralph Lauren rugby shirts2. Polo Ralph Lauren slim fit striped rugby shirt

You can’t get into rugby shirts and not invest in at least one from Ralph Lauren. This contemporary design from the American behemoth’s Polo collection is simple and clean, thanks to its easy-wearing navy and white hoop stripes.

The nice thing about this piece is that it’s not too heavy – it’ll work well as a mid-weight layer when it’s cool, and will sit comfortably with lightweight chinos or tailored shorts when it heats up. Now though, play up this shirt’s Ivy League credentials and try it beneath a big, bad tailored overcoat for a preppy look with attitude.

£119, shop now via Harrods

J.Crew panelled jersey rugby shirt3. J.Crew panelled jersey rugby shirt

This is one for the sportsman in you. J.Crew’s design for Mr Porter is a confident, playful take on the classic rugby, panelled in bright crimson and cream. Again, it’s a soft and comfy staple that’s easy to wear on cool days, but it’s lent an edge care of it’s ribbed cuffs and hem, which bring the shirt’s shape in over the hips for a trim look. The cream pointed collar and covered placket are smart finishing touches, too.

Keep the rest of your look simple and wear this over a dark chambray shirt, or a simple navy crewneck – if you’re feeling brave, you could even rock it with a dark cotton neckerchief tucked into the collar. It’s bohemian, I grant you – but it’s a damn cool look.

£75, shop now

Gant cable knit rugby shirt4. Gant cotton cable-knit rugby shirt

This knitted rugby polo is a chic alternative to conventional designs in jersey. Designed by another of America’s preppy menswear powerhouses, Gant’s take on the style is perfect for spring. In fine-gauge cotton, with a trim placket, collar and cuffs, this piece wears comfortably next to the skin, and layers seamlessly under softly structured tailoring.

Try it with pleated trousers in charcoal or navy (tuck it into your waistband for a clean look) and throw your favourite lightweight sports coat over the top. It’s available in navy and off-white, too – well worth investing in for the warmer months ahead.

£120, shop now

Rugby shirts5. Black and Blue 1871 sky blue rugby shirt

This rugby shirt’s a cheerful option for summer, with an interesting back story. Black and Blue is a new company that looks to the past for design inspiration, and for its own philosophy. 1871 is the founding year of 13 of the UK’s 21 original clubs of the Rugby Football Union, and has been adopted by Black and Blue as a mark of respect for Britain’s sporting heritage.

This decidedly ‘old school’ rugby shirt reflects this attitude. It’s cut from a particularly heavy, slub cotton jersey that’s been vintage colour dyed and washed for a much-loved, lived-in feel. It’s soft but substantial, finished with the mandatory white contrast collar and the number 15 sewn onto the back of the shirt.

Let this shirt’s quality speak for itself and pair with other light colours (think cream flannels or tapered beige chinos) and smart suede loafers for a relaxed, but put-together spring look.

£80, shop now