January 18, 2023 3 min read

The History of the Formal Menswear Shirt

A staple item of today's everyday wardrobe, the formal shirt did not always start from such dapper beginnings. To trace the evolutional history, we need to go to the First Dynasty Egyptian tombs. The first iteration of the mens shirt was recorded to be a "highly sophisticated" linen shirt from around 3482-3102 BC. A very simplistic design, it featured no cuffs nor buttons and was not fitted to the body, which carried over for centuries where the shirt remained an undergarment for men until the late 19th Century. 

Made typically from linen and cotton natural fibres, shirts initially acted as a barrier between the skin and stiff outerwear, always covered and never seen as part of the outfit - especially in the presence of women. This has remained with us in modern times, often a rule made at official sporting and formal events to keep suit jackets on at all times. 

It was during the 14th Century where the Normans added cuffs and collars. The shirts were also starting to be made from silk as a sign of affluence. By the 16th Century, shirts were extended downwards with a tail, as it was used to double up as drawers underneath breeches. As the shirts grew longer, the collars also started to evolve, becoming decorated with embroidery and ruffles, becoming a notable mark of the aristocracy. It was even legislated in England, dictating that those from a lower social rank were forbidden from wearing such elaborate shirts.


Pristine white shirts were considered another indicator of class as the maintenance needed to keep them clean meant that the wearer could afford for them to be washed and ironed daily. This was also the inspiration for the phrase 'white collar worker,' as it reflected a man that had enough staff to clean and give him a fresh shirt each day. However it was in 1827 where a housewife became frustrated with the constant cleaning of the collar that she took a pair of scissors and removed the collar, finding a way to reattach after only needing to clean the collar alone. This allowed the collar to be attached and removed to other shirts, giving the impression that they owned several shirts, another indicator of affluence. 

It was in 1871 where the button down placket was introduced to the shirt by Brown Davis & Co, a mens clothing manufacturer in London, who patented the first ever design for the buttoned shirt. Following the industrial revolution, office-jobs became popular and with that, aspirational middle-class workers who adopted the shirt as a sign of their ambitions. Following further 21st century technology advancements, the washing machine allowed for shirts to be cleaned without the need for manual labour. The shirt was reconstructed to become one piece again and became a part of everyday wardrobe. 

Today we find ourselves relying on shirts for uniform, formal occasions and even casual-wear. The issue in 2023 is finding menswear brands that prioritise responsible production and offer inclusive sizing to cater to the majority. It is about elevating a classic, staple garment through conscious manufacturing, intelligent design and addressing the needs of our time. That is where we step in. 

We continue the history of the menswear shirt, by reflecting the pressing needs and issues facing the menswear and textile industry in the 21st Century.

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