The History of the Overshirt
As the colder months draw closer the need for layering options becomes evermore apparent. With this in mind our Autumn / Winter collection features a range of new cotton and corduroy overshirts. But where did this versatile garment originate from and why is it the staple of many of our wardrobe fit rotations? Well, we're about to give it our best shot at explaining it.
The overshirt. A timeless piece of clothing that has evolved significantly over the years. From its humble beginnings as a practical garment for manual labourers to its current status as a fashion statement, the overshirt's journey through history is a fascinating one.
Function Over Fashion
The garment’s roots can be traced back to the 19th century when manual labour was the backbone of many economies. Workers needed durable and functional clothing that could withstand the rigours of their jobs. Enter the work shirt, a simple and rugged garment designed to protect the wearer's clothing from dirt and other elements. These early overshirts were typically made from heavy cotton drill, often with reinforced stitching, flaps and large lower patch pockets for holding tools.
As industries evolved and specialised, so did the overshirt. Different trades required different features, leading to variations like the railroad overshirt with its distinctive stripes, or the rancher's overshirt with pearl snap buttons for quick fastening while working with cattle. These adaptations showcased the overshirt's ability to adapt to the specific needs of the wearer.
This is where the Admiral brand enters the rich heritage of this garment. Before becoming one of Britain’s largest sportswear brands we were developing clothing for the military, providing overshirts to servicemen which played a significant role in shaping its history. The heavyweight cotton items, usually called field shirts, became standard issue for soldiers and were designed with practicality in mind, featuring multiple pockets for carrying ammunition, maps, and other essentials. Additionally, the military introduced camouflage patterns, emphasising their utility as not only protective garments but also as a means of blending into different environments.
From Workwear to Wardrobe
After World War II, many veterans returned home with their military-issued overshirts. These garments quickly found their way into civilian wardrobes and its rugged durability and timeless style made it an attractive choice for everyday wear. The overshirt became a symbol of rugged individualism and the blue-collar worker, embraced by cultural icons like James Dean and Steve McQueen.
We are often drawn to the style of Steve McQueen who adopted the overshirt early in his career in the hit TV series Wanted Dead or Alive (1958-1961) where he often wore heavy overshirts in addition to denim and sturdy boots. Iconic actor Paul Newman carried the overshirt’s mantle further and elevated it’s notoriety by wearing a traditional blue denim overshirt in the 1967 film ‘Cool Hand Luke’.
It was at this point in the timeline that designers observed the garment’s popularity and began experimenting with different fabrics, cuts, and styles, elevating the overshirt from a humble work garment to a versatile fashion piece.
The Modern Admiral Overshirt
The modern overshirt’s enduring appeal lies in its ability to bridge the gap between function and style, making it a timeless staple in many wardrobes. In our Autumn/Winter 2023 collection, we've taken inspiration from the classic Admiral overshirt, embracing its premium materials and timeless design while infusing a modern twist that resonates with today's era of menswear enthusiasts.
From its utilitarian beginnings as protective workwear to its current status as a versatile fashion piece, the overshirt has come a long way. Whether worn on the job or on the streets, the overshirt continues to symbolise durability, adaptability, and a connection to the roots of workwear fashion.