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A History of Men Wearing Dress Shirts

Posted on January 18 2018

When dress shirts first came into production, they were initially just another layer which would help in the protection of expensive coats and jackets. These coats and jackets would get sweaty and dirty if it weren’t for these ‘under shirts’. This was in the seventeenth century. A lot has happened since then, and as you may know, men’s dress shirts are now a staple in any man’s closet.

Until just recently, the dress shirt, specifically a white dress shirt would be deemed the symbol of a gentleman. What would differentiate the everyday man to the “business man” or the “gentleman” would be the cleanliness of the shirt. From the seventeenth century until the beginning of the 21st century, it was hard or basically impossible to keep these white shirts clean for a long time. So, if you had the money or resources to have multiple shirts and keep them clean, this would show your superiority in society, during the Victorian era.

But it wasn’t the body of the shirt that was getting ruined, it was the collar. So, there was a new invention. The detachable collar. This allowed the removal of the collar to facilitate cleaning and allowed dress shirts to have a longer life. Although this idea was revolutionary, many men weren’t able to re-attach their collars after they had taken them off to wash because this process was a little challenging. Also with the invention of the washing machine, these removable collars became obsolete and many individuals could now sport a clean white shirt on a day-to-day basis. So, by the turn of the 19th century, it was no longer the colour of the shirt or the whiteness, but rather the quality, the fit and even the tailor who made your shirt for you, which would distinguish your social class.

The Modern Shirt

The modern shirt as we know it only came to life in 1871, by Brown, Davies & Co. Although it was invented in 1871, it only gained momentum and became popular after 1930. This shirt had buttons all along the front and is the same design you would see in today’s stores. Well, at least pretty similar. There might be differences of collar height, shape, the idea stays pretty consistent. 

As the style of dress shirts developed over time, there were also other weaving and production developments that ended up coinciding with the progression of dress shirts. This is where jacquards came into play. To understand the history of jacquards and why they are important within dress shirts, you can read this article. Jacquard is a looming process which allows fabrics to have a custom pattern and gives a type of embedded look to the fabric. This is a high-quality, more expensive way to create fabric and in response ends up making a shirt that is superior than most. Here is an example of a shirt using jacquard technology.

 

Dress shirts have come a long way. Initially they were for the most prestigious, economically superior individuals. Now, everyone wears dress shirts. Wether it is for formal, or informal occasions. With many different people wearing these shirts, we can see how there are many different ways to wear the shirt. A lot of men will roll the sleeves of their shirt. The reason varies. Take a look at this post to see how and why individuals may roll their sleeves. Original dress shirts would never be rolled up, and now, we even have short sleeve dress shirts. This was seen as progressive during the 1960’s, but in the seventeenth century, it would have been unimaginable.

Today, there is still a sort of professionalism when an individual wears a dress shirt, but not as much as when they first came into the game. The whole idea of professionalism through clothing has shifted. There are now start-up companies who’s bosses wear simple t-shirts and jeans to work. They wear these informal outfits, but they still have the same amount of respect and authority. Dress shirts aren’t going anywhere in fashion, but the social dynamic attached to them are slowly diminishing. This allows more freedom of  expression in relation to fashion and creates more equality since there is less discrimination through the individuals choice of wardrobe. 

 

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