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The History of Men's shirts

The history of men's shirts is an intriguing journey that spans centuries and continents, reflecting the diverse cultures and fashion sensibilities of different societies. From ancient civilizations to modern times, the evolution of men's shirts showcases their functionality, symbolism, and ever-changing styles. Let us embark on a fascinating exploration of this garment's history and the distinct variations found across the globe.


The origins of men's shirts can be traced back to ancient Egypt around 3000 BC, where early depictions show men wearing a simple tunic-like attire known as a "kalasiris." Constructed from linen, this loose-fitting garment served a utilitarian purpose of providing protection from the harsh desert climate. Over time, the kalasiris evolved into the "kandys," a more sophisticated garment with sleeves and pleating, worn by Egyptian nobility.


Moving eastward, the traditional Chinese "hanfu" embodies an entirely different aesthetic. Originating in the influential Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC), the hanfu consisted of a robe-like

Ming dynasty portrait of General Tang Tong wearing a Hanfu
Ming dynasty portrait of General Tang Tong wearing a Hanfu

top, often flowing and loose. Men's shirts in ancient China were distinguished by their wide sleeves, intricate embroidery, and vibrant colours which symbolized social status and conveyed hierarchies within society.


Europe, with its rich history and multitude of cultures, offers a myriad of shirt styles. The Roman "tunica" represented the

The Roman tunica
The Roman tunica

precursor to the modern shirt, made from wool or linen, typically short-sleeved and worn as an undergarment. It served as the foundation upon which future European shirt designs were built.


During the Middle Ages, the "cotte" or "gipon" emerged as a practical, thigh-length garment worn by knights beneath their armor. It featured long sleeves to protect the arms and a fitted silhouette to enhance freedom of movement. The cotte served as both protection and a fashion statement for the knightly class.

The cotte
The cotte

As Europe entered the Renaissance period, men's shirts began to shift towards more elaborate styles. The frilly, ruffled "jabot" adorned the collars of noble men, adding a touch of extravagance to their garments. Such fashion trends continued to evolve, culminating in the widely recognized "cravat" or necktie, developed in the seventeenth century by Croatian soldiers and soon adopted by the French aristocracy.


The spread of European exploration and colonization led to the exchange of fashion influences across continents. One notable example is the introduction of the shirt worn with a "buba" in West Africa. The buba, typically made from colourful fabric, is complemented by men's shirts worn underneath and represents the incorporation of Western fashion into traditional African attire.


In India, the "kurta" emerged as a long, loose-fitting tunic widely worn by men across various

The kurta
The kurta

regions. The kurta, made from different textiles such as silk, cotton, or linen, reflects the country's diverse culture and acts as a versatile garment suitable for both formal and casual occasions.


In the modern era, men's shirts have become an iconic piece of clothing, emphasizing individuality and personal style. From classic dress shirts with stiff collars worn with suits to casual button-downs, t-shirts, and polo shirts, men today have an array of options to choose from. Additionally, contemporary fashion designers push the boundaries of creativity, frequently experimenting with new cuts, prints, and fabrics.



Men in dress shirts


The history of men's shirts is a testament to the ever-changing world of fashion and the fusion of cultures. From ancient times to the present day, men's shirts have come to symbolize cultural identity, fashion trends, and individuality. As we explore different shirt styles from around

the world, we gain a deeper appreciation for the craftsmanship, symbolism, and sartorial choices that make this versatile garment an enduring element of men's fashion.

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