Some staples of fashion are so ubiquitous that they seem to embody the very spirit of their land. Such is the case with the Irish grandfather shirt.
This traditional garment has been a favorite for Irish men for centuries, and although recent years have seen a resurgence in its popularity as a trendy item, the appeal of this collarless shirt goes far beyond simply looking good.
With roots that reach all the way back to the pre-industrial era, the Irish grandfather shirt is the kind of a staple that anyone whose ancestors hail from the Emerald Isle can be proud to wear.
A Look All Its Own
There’s no mistaking a grandfather shirt for anything else. In fact, even those who don’t know the name have almost certainly seen one of the individualistic pieces before.
Generally speaking, this Irish shirt is characterized by its lack of collar. Though it buttons up much like any dress shirt you’ve ever seen, there’s simply not a collar when you reach the top.
Additionally, some grandfather shirts simply feature a half button placket rather than an entire row of buttons on the front. There is often a front pocket on them as well, giving the garments a casual yet dressed up air, which fits in quite nicely with their history.
Keeping with their roots, these traditional Irish shirts are almost always white or cream, but they may also feature stripes. Because of the fact that these shirts have gotten more popular recently, some grandfather shirts can be purchased in other colors, and even featuring other patterns.
A traditional grandfather shirt is made of high quality, breathable cotton. This was necessary for those who traditionally wore the shirts, and is a fact enjoyed by modern wearers. They can also be made from Irish linen, which gives them a more formal feel, and this version is sometimes referred to as a Sunday Shirt.
No matter the particulars in terms of buttons, color, or even fabric, the shirt has a distinctive style that you simply can’t miss once you know what to look for.
Humble Roots in Rural Ireland
As you may have guessed by the dressed-down aesthetic of the Irish grandfather shirt, the garment wasn’t invented by bankers or executives in cities. No, the grandfather shirt was developed and adopted by the hardworking, blue-collar laborers of Ireland’s rural regions.
Different areas of the country lay claim to the invention of the grandfather shirt, but the fact is that there’s no clear picture of exactly where the style came from, only that it was widely worn by those who performed physical labor in order to provide for their families.
This is where the Irish grandfather shirt actually got its name. These shirts were traditionally worn by the eldest breadwinners of the families, and because working men often had a few grandchildren before they ceased their physical labor, the garments became known colloquially as grandfather shirts.
The breathable cotton was perfect for helping these men stay cool during the hotter parts of the year. Because this shirt was created hundreds of years ago, even blue-collar workers weren’t performing their duties in t-shirts, so the grandfather shirt added a level of formality.
However, the shirts never crossed the boundary into a territory that was too formal or too buttoned-up for these hard-working men. As laborers, they had no use for neckties, so a collar was completely useless to them. This is how the most prominent feature of the grandfather shirt was born.
Eventually, the style migrated to the U.K., where Industrial Era laborers wore them to work. However, this iteration of the grandfather shirt was different for one important reason: it had an attachable collar that could be buttoned on at will.
Back in Ireland, the popular “Sunday Shirt” version of the grandfather shirt made of Irish linen became a favorite formal garment that men would wear to mass, christenings, weddings, and other momentous occasions.
Irish grandfather shirts were so popular, and remained in the limelight for so long, that they came to exemplify the Irish people: durable, versatile, and not too polished but still lovely. This is how the grandfather shirt came to be considered a piece of traditional Irish dress, along with items like the flat cap and Irish tweed pants.
Basically, the Irish grandfather shirt upholds the values that the country has always held dear, and serves as a symbol of the hard work put in by generations past to create a brighter future for their posterity.
The Irish Grandfather Shirt Then and Now
As mentioned before, grandfather shirts have enjoyed something of a reincarnation in modern fashion. Because of this, you won’t have trouble finding something that could be classified as a grandfather shirt, and it won’t even take much effort on your part.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that the first passable shirt you stumble upon will uphold the traditions of the garment. If you’re simply looking for a grandfather shirt because you like the style, then, by all means, throw caution to the wind as you peruse.
If, on the other hand, you want to buy an Irish grandfather shirt because of what it symbolizes, you’ll need to be a bit more scrutinizing. Maybe your own grandfather was Irish, or maybe you just have a deep respect for the culture. In any case, you can’t purchase just any Irish grandfather shirt and expect it to meet traditional standards.
Instead, look for a grandfather shirt made of linen or cotton that features a half button placket, a front pocket, and conspicuously lacks a collar. The fabric and construction of the shirt are the important components, about which you should be especially selective.
Some items of clothing stand for something larger than simply covering a person’s body, and the Irish grandfather shirt is certainly one of them.