The Evolution of Shirts
Shirts have been a staple of every man’s wardrobe since records began. Their elegance and sophistication, yet simplicity mean they have stood the test of time, and quite frankly it’s hard to imagine a world without them (let’s hope so anyway..)
In order to stand said test of time they’ve evolved with daily needs. Some of these evolutions are particularly brilliant – here’s the shortlist.
The earliest discovery was in an Egyptian tomb at Tarkan in 1913. A linen shirt spun from the flax plant marks the oldest preserved garment in the world. Around this time hemp was being used as rope to build the pyramids.
Shirts remained hidden under a man’s outerwear as a washable divider to sit between skin and harder to wash outerwear. Lacking buttons down the front, it was unintended that they ever be shown – so frowned upon that they were never seen…almost better to be completely starkers! To this day, remnants of these traditions exist where a man is expected to keep his jacket on (Black tie, Tails, Horse Racing etc)
Around this time it is alleged that women of status were buttoned up by servants from the front, more easily done from the left for a right-hander, whilst men dressed themselves.
The shirt is extended below the waist and down to the lower regions. Whilst shirts doubled up as underwear down below they would soon become frilly and puffy up top to evoke wealth and ostentatiousness.
Frustrated at constantly scrubbing her husband’s collars back to a pristine white, an American housewife, Hannah Montague, took to the shirt with scissors and cut the collar off. Her invention of removable collars meant that a husband could continue to have pristine collars on display every day, whilst wearing the same shirt underneath. This also had the effect of giving the impression that they owned more shirts than they did – and were deemed more affluent.
A few years later, the phrase ‘white collar worker’ came into being to reflect men with a large enough number of staff at home to ensure he had a fresh shirt each day – without having to engage with dirty manual work that would soil fresh shirt.
As industrialisation creates fortunes in America and Europe, a new class of aspirational workers in the middle appears, shirts become vastly popular as more managerial and desk jobs occur.
American’s begin to wear shirts with turned-over ‘wing’ collars and don them with decorative gold and jewel studs. Back in the home counties of England, polo players become fed up with their collars flapping against their cheeks and pin them down. The button-down collar is invented.
The chore of washing a shirt changes from being a labour intensive, time consuming activity, to a joy with the invention of the washing machine. No longer do men or housewives of the time have to fiddle about with collars and cuffs, and shirts become one piece again.
As shirts become a part of everyday life for everybody, the working classes start to wear blue coloured shirts which hide dirt and stains, whilst giving a smart appearance. The phrase ‘blue collar worker is born’
As central heating in buildings leads to a decline in three piece suits workers still feel the need for a little extra storage on their shirts – give rise to the chest pocket.
2019 – PRESENT
Whilst travelling in India one long university summer, Charlie discovers hemp as a sustainable, beautifully soft fabric that crumples lightly next to the skin. He concocts a plan to make brilliant shirts from hemp and breathe some life into a forgotten fabric that once clothed 80% of the world.
Babble & Hemp is born as the UKs first hemp shirtmaker selling both online and at Portobello Road Market, offering a collection of well tailored, sustainable shirts.