A shirt that you can full back on

Timothy Barber
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FOR all that the modern rubgy pro is the kind of lean, pumped-up bulldozer who would grind his amateur era predecessors into the dust, I’d argue the classic image of rugby is still JPR Williams in full flight, socks around his ankles, sideburns at full mutton chop, and shirt billowing as much as his hair. The fact that the teams taking to the pitch at the Millenium Stadium tonight for the Six Nations kick off will be wearing tops resembling wetsuits more than shirts hardly adds to the romance of the game.

It adds hugely to the romance of the old-fashioned rugby shirt though. Since the stripy, contrast-coloured jersey is no longer sported by burly lads crashing around in the mud, it’s free to be recognised for the versatile design classic it is. Just ask sartorial guru Jeremy Hackett:

“There has become a nostalgia for the authentic and original shirt made from heavy duty cotton,” he says. “It’s become an alternative to the Polo shirt and is now often emblazoned with badges and graphics with different coloured collars and contrasting under-collars, and the fit is neat and short.”

Nostalgia and Polo shirts, of course, are both components of the ever-present preppy look, as are stripes (that nautical element) and, well, anything that was historically a bit posh.

Austin Reed’s director of design Ryan Hackett (no relation) points out that the rugby shirt also gives chaps a rare chance to add bold colours to their look. “It still has that masculine, sporty association, but you can wear it with quite feminine colours – it’s one of the few areas where men don’t seem to be scared of wearing pinks, purples and light blues.”

Wear it over things as a jumper – there are knitwear versions around – as a shirt with jeans or tuck it into chinos for the varsity look.

Just remember that it is, and always will be, a shirt for crashing around with an oval ball in days when men were men and Welsh surgeons with vast sidies became sporting icons at the weekend.

1 Austin Reed, £49, www.austinreed.co.uk
2 Raging Bull at Debenhams Sport & Leisure, £49, www.debenhams.com
3 Musto, £55, www.musto.com
4 Austin Reed, £49, www.austinreed.co.uk
5 Eden Park, £89, www.uk.eden-park.com
6 Eden Park, £108, www.uk.eden-park.com
7 Debenhams, 32, www.debenahms.com