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  • Bronagh Griffin

From Togas to the roaring 20s shirts, how did it evolve?


We know it as a shirt, formal or casual and the American's call it a dress shirt, the French call it la chemise , the Italians call in camicia and the Japanese call in shatsu. But how did the shirt develop into what we know today?

In classical Rome at the times of Julius Caesar , both men and women wore the toga; it was a semicircular piece of cloth, an expensive garment to produce, and it impractically draped around those who did not do too much labour, a more ceremonial outfit than daily garb.

On a daily basis tunics were worn, simple rectangular shifts pinned in place , this could be viewed as the first shirt.

Over time, the medieval Europeans adapted this shape and tailored to into an undershirt, something practical to protect frock coats ad waistcoats from soil and sweat - bathing was not that popular! Made from Linen, hemp or cotton, it took a purely practical form and had little embellishment. This under shirt was only seen on the working man.Upper classes kept it truly under wraps.

By the 1800s the tailored shirts in what we would recognise as a grandad shirt with a collar band at the neck was the order of the day.

They used detachable collars as well as detachable bibs at the front of the shirt and at the cuffs. This meant that they could be washed without having to launder the whole shirt (hygiene was still not of paramount importance)

No respectable man would wear anything other than white and would never been seen formerly in his shirt sleeves.



Removable collars ( made from linen for the rich and paper for the poor) were very stiff and attached to the shirt by studs at the back and front of the neck, which gave the opportunity for expensive stud accessories and pristine collars among the ruling classes.

By the roaring 20s the rules eased and coloured and softer attached collared shirts in pastel colours were all the norm. For the next 40 years very little changed in terms of the style of shirts , collars became longer or shorter but the shirt revolution didn't happen until the 60s when there was an anything goes attitude; louder, more colourful and bigger, made the statement of the day.