An icon of English school days, or a staple of American ivy style? Our Creative Director Michael Hill, and style writer David Coggins conduct a conversation on the enduring appeal of the rugby shirt - from their respective sides of the pond.
Michael: For me it’s a funny one because I love rugby shirts, but having worn them at school they have always had that baggage – I mean, you don’t want to wear your school uniform at home, do you? So it took me a few years to come around to them. Really it was seeing them worn in the context of American ivy style that got me thinking they could play an interesting role in an outfit. It allowed me to see the shirts stripped of their associations as it were, and to enjoy them for what they are.
But then I started thinking ‘hang on, the rugby shirt is very much a British garment.’ I felt like it had become more associated with the US than with Britain, so in a way I wanted to reclaim it! That’s when we started working on designs for our own version.
David: It’s an interesting to think of the rugby shirt in terms of American style. I always associate then with David Hockney, who is of course English. I think he responded to what we all respond to which is that they’re very colourful and graphic, one of the most vivid things a man can wear. I think they have the right overtones to sport, but can be worn on their own terms. I think of mountain climbers like Yvon Chouinard who wore them—he liked their heavy collars. They're the right combination of making an effort without really having to do very much at all. It’s one of the easiest things a man can wear—no wonder we like them!
M: Yvon Chouinard is a perfect reference. I grew up ever-curious about the legends of Yosemite, and the whole climbing culture that surrounded that time in the '60s and '70s. There's almost something mythical about that period, and when we wear rugby shirts there's that history, and that romanticism, a bit like when you wear a pair of blue jeans or a coat that perhaps has a hunting provenance - these aren't items that were invented yesterday, this stuff that has a past and a story. We love that narrative, even though we might be wearing it in a context that's relevant for today. And that's the other thing about the rugby - it's so versatile, so it's easy to incorporate into a contemporary wardrobe. How would you wear one?
D: It is an incredibly versatile thing. I like the idea that, like a field jacket or a big cardigan, you just wear it every day while you’re on a trip or staying in the country. Wear one with shorts and desert boots on a hike, then wear it under a military jacket, baggy chinos and loafers that same night. Do you have a dark linen suit? It would be a nice burst of colour under that, with a pair of Belgian Shoes. You could pair it with an ancient double-breasted pinstripe suit and call a little attention to yourself, even more so if you added velvet slippers. Like many of the best things it gets better the more you wear it. After a few months you won’t remember your life without it.
M: That’s absolutely true, it is something you could wear every day, with almost everything. At first glance I think a rugby shirt can look a little difficult to work into an outfit, a little hard to assimilate. But really that’s the beauty of it: it goes with everything because it sort of goes with nothing. I have a lovely olive linen suit from our Spring/Summer collection, and I do plan on wearing one of our rugby shirts with it. Equally, I would dress one down with denim and a pair of suede chukkas. Rugby shirts work hard, and I think ultimately that’s the hallmark of a really indispensable item for a lot of men. You can live in them.
D: I totally agree. In a way it’s like a more hard-wearing accessory. It’s dependable and comforting, but has its own unique personality. Like a good pub!