A shirt is a cloth garment for the upper body. Originally an item of underwear worn exclusively by men, it has become in American English a catch-all term for almost any upper-body garment other than outerwear such as sweaters or coats, or undergarments such as bras (the term "top" is sometimes used in ladieswear). In British English, a shirt is more specifically a garment with a collar, sleeves with cuffs, and a full vertical opening with buttons; what is known in American English as a dress shirt.
The shirt was an item of men's underwear until the twentieth century
. Although the woman's chemise
was a closely related garment to the man's, it is the man's garment that became the modern shirt. In the middle ages
it was a plain, undyed garment worn next to the skin and under regular garments. In medieval artworks, the shirt is only visible (uncovered) on humble characters, such as shepherds
, prisoners, and penitents
. In the seventeenth century
men's shirts were allowed to show, with much the same erotic
import as visible underwear today. In the eighteenth century, instead of underpants, men "relied on the long tails of shirts ... to serve the function of drawers. Eighteenth century costume historian Joseph Strutt
believed that men who did not wear shirts to bed were indecent. Even as late as 1879, a visible shirt with nothing over it was considered improper.
The shirt sometimes had frills at the neck or cuffs. In the sixteenth century, men's shirts often had embroidery, and sometimes frills or lace at the neck and cuffs, and through the eighteenth century long neck frills, or jabots, were fashionable. Colored shirts begin to appear in the early nineteenth century, as can be seen in the paintings of George Caleb Bingham. They were considered casual wear, for lower class workers only, until the twentieth century. "[For a gentleman] to wear a sky-blue shirt was unthinkable in 1860 but had beome standard by 1920 and, in 1980, constituted the most commoplace event.
European and American women began wearing shirts in 1861, when the "Garibaldi Blouse", a red shirt as worn by the freedom fighters under Giuseppe Garibaldi, became fashionable.
Types of shirt
- Camp shirt — a loose, straight-cut, short sleeved shirt or blouse with a simple placket front-opening and a "camp collar."
- guayabera — an embroidered dress shirt with four pockets.
- T-shirt — also "tee shirt", a casual shirt without a collar or buttons, made of a stretchy, finely knit fabric, usually cotton, and usually short-sleeved. It is a common shirt for informal events.
- Ringer T-shirt — tee with a separate piece of fabric sewn on as the collar and sleeve hems.
- halfshirt — a high-hemmed t-shirt.
- A-shirt or construction shirt or singlet (in British English) — essentially a sleeveless t-shirt with large armholes and a large neck hole, often worn by labourers or athletes for increased movability. Sometimes called a "wife beater" when worn without a covering layer.
- camisole — woman's undershirt with narrow straps, or a similar garment worn alone (often with bra). Also referred to as a cami, shelf top, spaghetti straps or strappy top.
- tennis shirt, golf shirt, or polo shirt — a v-neck shirt with a full collar; opening often closed with buttons or zipper running partway down the front. Short or long sleeve. Sometimes embroidered with club or designer insignia. Often worn with a sweater vest.
baseball shirt — usually distinguished by a three quarters sleeve, team insignia, and flat waistseam.
sweatshirt — long-sleeved athletic shirt of heavier material, with or without hood.
tunic — primitive shirt, distinguished by two-piece construction. Initially a men's garment, is normally seen in modern times being worn by women.
shirtwaist — historically (circa. 1890-1920) a woman's tailored shirt (also called a "tailored waist") cut like a man's dress shirt; in contemporary usage, a woman's dress cut like a men's dress shirt to the waist, then extended into dress length at the bottom
nightshirt — often oversized, ruined or inexpensive light cloth undergarment shirt for sleeping.
sleeveless shirt — A shirt with no sleeves. Contains only neck, bottom hem, body, and sometimes shoulders depending on type.
- rugby shirt — typically a rugged long-sleeved polo shirt, of thick cotton or wool.
- henley shirt — a collarless polo shirt.
- halter top — a shoulderless, sleeveless garment for women. It is mechanically analogous to an apron with a string around the back of the neck and across the lower back holding it in place.
Tops that would generally not be considered shirts:
- onesie or diaper shirt — a shirt for infants which includes a long back that is wrapped between the legs and buttoned to the front of the shirt.
- sweaters — heavy knitted upper garments.
- jackets, coats and similar outerwear
- tube top (in American English) or boob tube (in British English) — a shoulderless, sleeveless "tube" that wraps the torso (not reaching higher than the armpit, staying in place by elasticity or by a single strap that is attached to the front of the tube.
Parts of shirts
Many terms are used to describe and differentiate types of shirts (and upper-body garments in general) and their construction. The smallest differences may have significance to a cultural or occupational group. Recently, (late 20th century) it has become common to use tops to carry messages or advertising. Many of these distinctions apply to other upper-body garments, such as coats
Shoulders and arms
- with no covering of the shoulders or arms — a tube top (not reaching higher than the armpits, staying in place by elasticity)
- with only shoulder straps, such as spaghetti straps
- covering the shoulders, but without sleeves
- with short sleeves, varying from cap sleeves (not extending below the armpit) to half sleeves (elbow length)
- with three-quarter-length sleeves (reaching to a point between the elbow and the wrist)
- with long sleeves, may further be distinguished by the cuffs:
- asymmetrical designs, such as one-shoulder, one-sleeve or with sleeves of different lengths.
Lower hem of shirt
- leaving the belly button area bare (much more common for women than for men). See halfshirt.
- hanging to the waist
- covering the crotch
- covering part of the legs (essentially this is a dress; however, a piece of clothing is perceived either as a shirt (worn with trousers) or as a dress (in Western culture mainly worn by women)).
- going to the floor (as a pajama shirt)
- vertical opening on the front side, all the way down, with buttons or zipper. When fastened with buttons, this opening is often called the placket front.
- similar opening, but in back.
- left and right front side not separable, put on over the head; with regard to upper front side opening:
- V-shaped permanent opening on the top of the front side
- no opening at the upper front side
- vertical opening on the upper front side with buttons or zipper
- men's shirts are often buttoned on the right whereas women's are often buttoned on the left.
- with polo-neck
- with v-neck but no collar
- with plunging neck
- with open or tassel neck
- with collar
- windsor collar or spread collar — a dressier collar designed with a wide distance between points (the spread) to accommodate the windsor knot tie. The standard business collar.
- tab collar — a collar with two small fabric tabs that fasten together behind a tie to maintain collar spread.
- wing collar — best suited for the bow tie, often only worn for very formal occasions.
- straight collar — or point collar, a version of the windsor collar that is distinguished by a narrower spread to better accommodate the four-in-hand knot, pratt knot, and the half-windsor knot. A moderate dress collar.
- button-down collar — A collar with buttons that fasten the points or tips to a shirt. The most casual of collars worn with a tie.
- band collar — essentially the lower part of a normal collar, first used as the original collar to which a separate collarpiece was attached. Rarely seen in modern fashion. Also casual.
- turtle neck collar — A collar that covers most of the throat.
- without collar
- pockets — how many (if any), where, and with regard to closure: not closable, just a flap, or with a button or zipper.
- with or without hood
Some combinations are not applicable, of course, e.g. a tube top cannot have a collar.
Toplessness is the opposite of wearing a shirt of some kind, or a bikini top, etc. This is sometimes considered a kind of nudity, especially in the case of women.
Shirts and politics
was the name used by Garibaldi
's troops in Italian Unification
In 1920s and 1930s, the fascism choose coloured shirts for made explicit its ideology: