A history of popover shirts

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February 26, 2016 by Ville Raivio

In historical light, we are living an age of a young shirt type. The current one has buttons from the neck down to the hem, but for centuries before this, men’s shirts were simply dragged on. Closure was handled with cords, strings or with the help of a few buttons – in any case, the shirt could not be opened fully. This shirt cut has later on taken the name of popover. It was originally used for formal shirts and humble work garments, but as stiff detachable collars were left out and buttoning moved lower during the early 1900s, popovers became rarer. Thanks to their peculiar shape, they were worn for leisure almost without excetions.

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During the 1960s, the American company GANT became known for shirts whose buttons ran out at the middle of the torso. To dress into them, the shirts had to be popped over the head — and this act gave its name to the shirts. Since then, the company has manufactured or has had made popovers from one year to another, but in random amounts and as part of varying lineups. Ralph Lauren’s company has done likewise, but theirs have popped up so randomly that fans of these shirts have been forced to hunt things down or have them made. Italy’s greatest style icon Gianni Agnelli was a fan of the popover in his off-time and style mavens followed suit, but for some peculiar reason the masses have not taken to popovers. Whatever was left of the shirt’s popularity after the Victorian times was cut off by World War part I and Redux. Afterwards the shirt was most popular in America as part of the Ivy League uniform, in Europe it has mostly died off.

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The popover’s buttoning is shorter, so these models must be cut looser to allow ease of dressing and stripping. If they’re worn loose and over the trousers, however, the hem should be fairly form-fitting, and this adds difficulty for the maker. The length of the placket has been a matter of taste, but most companies have favoured 2-4 buttons. While regular shirts allow buttons to be moved a few cms to make room for changing guts, popovers are intolerant for such manoeuvres. Despite a few limitations, the popover offers any man an eccentric look that has been able to appeal for a few centuries now. Few garments achieve the same.


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