The Resurgence of the Rugby Shirt

The Rugby is back in vogue, and I am stoked.

The rugby shirt has been a part of many people’s casual wardrobes as far back as the 1980s, enjoying a wave of mainstream popularity in the 1990s when well-known designers such as Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren caught onto the trend and included the rugby in their collections. The popularity waned somewhat in recent years; however the last couple of seasons have seen rugby tops making a big comeback, with the last couple of years seeing them out in force.

Why You Should Add a Rugby Shirt To Your Wardrobe:

The rugby is – in my view – one of the most versatile pieces of clothing you can have in your wardrobe. They are perfect for the cooler seasons and fit in perfectly with smart casual, weekend and even business casual looks if you have the confidence to rock it!

Smart Casual Looks:

For an effortlessly stylish smart casual look, I like to combine a rugby with selvedge jeans and a pair of boots or sneakers with striped socks.

Outfit 1: R.M. Williams Tweedale Rugby in Navy/Bone, Levi’s 511 jeans, Dr. Martens 1460 boots.

Outfit 3: Calibre rugby with Prince of Wales contrast collar/cuffs, some old no-name grey selvedge jeans, Dr. Martens 1460 boots.

Outfit 2: Vintage Polo Ralph Lauren rugby, Riders by Lee R2 Slim and Narrow jeans, Lacoste plimsolls.

Related reading: Two Classic Sock Patterns to Breathe Life Into Your Outfit

Business Casual Looks

For a business casual look, I tuck a rugby into a pair of tailored pants. It is also possible to throw on a rugby over a shirt and tie for a unique preppy look.

Want versatility? Get a contrast collar!

In my experience, a contrast collar is a great way to improve the versatility of your rugby shirt. For example, I have two of the classic striped RM Williams rugbies, bone and navy as well as a yellow and navy. However, the yellow one has a navy collar identical to the navy of the stripes while the bone one has a white collar. I find myself reaching for the bone one almost every time when choosing between the two, despite really liking the yellow one.

I have also found that contrast collar rugbies work much better for business casual than examples like the title image:

Lacking a contrast collar: more casual, less versatile.

Which brands should you look for?

There are plenty of brands making great rugby shirts right now, so here are a few I have personal experience with:

R.M. Williams: A staple name in Australian wardrobes, and their rugby tops are fantastic. They offer both plain colour and traditional thick horizontal stripe options in a small range of colours, and are excellent quality. The material holds warmth well, is very comfortable, and the collars are nice and stiff. The price point is also good as well.

For best prices: hit the DFO/Harbour Town store or head to Peter Webber Menswear in Prospect.

Tommy Hilfiger: Following the 90’s trend that is currently in full swing, Tommy has revisited much of his 90’s archive which thankfully has included releases of rugby tops! The material on these feels great, though the designs are usually quite bold. This is great if you are a bright colours person, but does limit the versatility. I’m personally a big fan of Tommy, and would happily purchase. I like the boldness of the current season designs, and the recent Coca-Cola collab ones are worth checking out too if that’s your thing.

For best prices: shop online or head to a DFO.

Polo Ralph Lauren: A classic for rugby tops, the Polo Rugby collection from the ’90s is hugely sought after. Ralph Lauren has also revisited his ’90s archive to rebirth some of the Polo rugby designs, though these are not as widely available as those of say, Tommy Hilfiger. Though there are plenty of good looking Polo rugby tops in more classic patterns, I do find some of the designs to be a bit garish with prominent prints and patches. It is also important to note that the collars on Polo rugby tops are quite flimsy and are somewhat difficult to pair with jackets because the collars just won’t sit right. I would personally recommend that if you want a Polo rugby top, you should buy vintage rather than shelling out for a brand new one.

For best prices: shop online, hit the sale rack at a DFO or David Jones at the right time of year or go vintage.

Nautica: These guys do some interesting designs and I have recently acquired my first from them. Their modern designs are more casual in nature compared to others, but well worth a look if you are looking for a more hip design.

For best prices: shop at The Iconic, or go vintage.

J. Crew: One of the founding fathers of the rugby top trend in the 1980s, J. Crew are still pushing out classic designs. If you want an original look, this brand is worth a look.

For best prices: shop online.

What should you avoid?

Some brands – especially those made for department stores – tend to cut their rugby tops in baggy fits or using ugly patterns. When buying a rugby – as with any other shirt – you want something that fits well and is flattering to your body so avoid any brand that is primarily concerned with comfort fits. I have also found that brands targeted towards older men such as Breakaway tend to have both loose fits and unflattering colour schemes.

You should also avoid wearing specific rugby team jumpers unless you’re a going to matches. This especially counts if it’s a bright green and red striped rugby top, unless you want to join the internet ranks of Random Souths Guys.

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With content features ranging from appearances on popular menswear hubs (The Rake, StyleForum, Put This On) to French perfume newsletters and university course readings, Sam is a writer, designer and enthusiast in the fields of menswear and fragrance.

8 thoughts on “The Resurgence of the Rugby Shirt

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