The History of the Henley Shirt

The Henley Shirt

Design-wise, a Henley shirt is basically a polo shirt, sans collar; or a T-shirt with a short, three- or four-button placket. The Henley’s design was inspired by the button-up-the-front men’s underwear of the Victorian era, and its name is derived from an esteemed sporting event.

Since 1839, Henley-on-Thanes, a town in Oxfordshire, England, about 100 km west of London, has been home to the Henley Royal Regatta. It is said that the crew teams would do their early morning rowing exercises in their undershirts, so much so that the shirts soon came to be known as “Henleys.” A short-sleeved adaptation of the shirt remained popular with rowing crews until the 1940s, when the T-shirt with shorts, and later the A-shirt with shorts, and then A-shirt-inspired unisuits (under which short- or long-sleeved T-shirts are sometimes worn, depending on the weather), became the garments of choice. The Henley remained popular as a sports shirt, however, its placket-front inspiring rugby and polo shirts, for example. Today, the Henley, long-sleeved or short-sleeved, is considered a versatile classic, occupying its rightful place in practically every gentleman’s wardrobe, whether as a pajama top or a summer sweater or a shirt of fine linen to be worn with a blazer. Worn completely buttoned up, a Henley appears as a refined, crew neck garment. And when fully or partially unbuttoned, it conveys a certain je ne sais quoi of masculine sensuality.

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