The collarless shirt, often known as a grandad shirt or band collar shirt, is experiencing something of a renaissance at the moment.
As a casual alternative to the standard stuffy shirt, a grandad collar offers a versatile look for all ages, one which has been sported by Paul Weller, the cast of Peaky Blinders and even young Prince George.
With fashion trends recycling themselves all the time, it may come as no surprise that such an overlooked garment is once again having its moment in the sun, sartorially speaking. But how did the humble grandad collar find its place as a fashion fixture, to begin with? Perhaps it’s best if we delve into its surprisingly complex origin story and look for clues there…
Detachable collars, factory workers and a military background
Forward-thinking brands like Sir Plus, who manufacture their clothing from sustainable fabrics including surplus, to make bespoke fitting garments, are looking to the past to reintroduce the likes of grandad shirts to fashion dominance. Specifically, these brands are casting their minds back to the work of an enterprising New York housewife in the 1920s. The story goes that Hannah Montague simply wanted to wash her husband’s collar separately from the rest of his shirt, so cut it off in order to do so. And that’s it — just a practical and reasonable solution to a daily problem for white-collar workers.
Others have cited manual blue-collar workers from the same era as being responsible for inventing what came to be known as the grandad shirt. According to legend, the decision to cut collars was equally functional—as they didn’t wear ties on the factory floor due to the risk of getting them caught in the machinery, there was no need to retain the collars on their shirts.
Despite these pragmatic stories of its conception, there is just as much evidence pointing to a military background for the grandad shirt. Band collars were part of the standard issue Greyback shirts during the First World War, so-called due to the colour of the flannel material from which they were made. Much like the t-shirt’s rise to ubiquity after its role as a vest in the Second World War, the collarless shirt soon began to be worn in peacetime, as emphasised by its use in the twenties-set BBC drama Peaky Blinders. The origin of the term “grandad shirt”, however, seems to have been lost to the ages.
How to wear a grandad shirt
Despite its century-long history, grandad shirts have clearly come back into fashion due to their versatility. Easily accessorised, their use as a casual garment has increased as time has gone by, though never undermining their ability to be the basis for a more formal outfit. Grandad shirts are now also manufactured from more than just flannel, with denim, cotton and linen providing a flexible alternative to the standard shirt.
One thing to bear in mind before splashing out on a grandad shirt is that you will need to take collar size into account alongside your usual size measurements. Much like the chest or waist size of any given shirt, you should make sure to avoid the risk of buying a shirt with too restrictive a neck. There’s no point letting style get in the way of comfort, otherwise, you may as well buy one of the original military-issue flannel collarless shirts!
As for what to wear a grandad shirt with, they can be layered with pretty much anything, which may go some way to explaining their resurgent popularity. Although they look great enough on their own, the choice of accompaniments which go with a collarless shirt is limitless. A mandarin collar jacket follows the same line as the grandad, creating a clean and refined look that’s perfect for the festive season.
If there’s a breeze out, simply throw on a cardigan. Heading to a formal soirée? Grab a blazer or suit, and step out. So whilst its origins may go back away, the comeback of the grandad shirt has been well earned.