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Take a virtual tour through the history of mens retro shirts

January 11, 2020

  Browse through the fascinating backstory of mens retro shirts through the fashion ages and see how styles were influenced in all kinds of ways across the world.


They have a fascinating history that range from ancient Egyptian origins, to hidden social messaging, to emblems of social status. Vintage shirts were so much more than just utilitarian garments, so read on for this engrossing evolution of vintage men shirt styles.

Egyptian to Nurnberg pageant of men and women wearing various tunics

Egyptian to Nurnberg pageant of men and women wearing various tunics

Ancient origins of mens retro shirts


Men shirts as items of clothing have been relatively static in styles for the last 50 years but an examination of vintage shirts and their history tells an interesting story of ancient origins. It starts with Egyptian roots of mens retro shirts. Typically fabricated in linen, vintage shirts have their roots as far back as 1420 BC in ancient Egypt, where they took the form of lightweight tunics with loose long sleeve styling.

Portrait of a Renaissance man

Portrait of a Renaissance man

But it gets better:

13th to 15th centuries
  • Knights rock mens retro shirts:  In the 13th to 15th centuries, European knights wore full long sleeve vintage shirts under their leather vests and armour. These shirts were made out of cotton for warmer weather or wool for winter wear.


  • Mens retro shirts during the Renaissance:  In this era, they were more than just utilitarian garments.  In fact, the style and cut and design of a shirt spoke to a man’s status in society. They buttoned up on the right-hand side and womens shirts buttoned up on the left.  These small quirks arose from the practice of having servants button up one’s shirts and indicated a family’s ability to pay for this service.


16th to 18th centuries
  • Mens retro shirts done the half shirt way:  from the 16th to 18th centuries, the half shirt, also known as the sham, became a popular evolution of vintage shirts.    The half shirt was more for decoration and utility, and was worn over a regular shirt to dress it up.

Tunic, 6th–7th century Coptic, Coptic period

Tunic, 6th–7th century,
Coptic period
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,

18th century

Then came the evolution of the long shirt style. In the 18th century, they dropped in length to mid-thigh, working as underwear as well as a shirt. Also in the 18th century, mens retro shirts became much more embellished than ever before, with frills around the neck and down the front, much fuller long sleeve styles and made out of lace, satin and silk fabrications.


But it didn’t stop there. Detachable collars were added to mens retro shirts. In the mid-1800s, a housewife in America came up with the idea of a detachable collar so that she could wash only the dirty collars of her husband’s shirts, instead of the whole garment.

Shirt styles worn by Popular Musicians, 1836

Shirt styles worn by Popular Musicians, 1836

British influence
  • British influence on mens retro shirts:  Also, in the mid-1800s, we had the fashion icon of the day, Beau Brummell, setting the trend for vintage shirts for men with fitted, sharp styling and high collars, usually fabricated in white linen.


French styles
  • French styles for mens retro shirts:  By the end of the 1800s, the still-famous French cuff made its debut on the vintage shirts fashion scene.   Although this style originated in Britain, it became a fashion statement when adopted by the French.


  • Mens retro shirts become serviceable:  In the middle of the 19th century, it became common practice to have detachable cuffs and collars on vintage shirts, making it easy to maintain these garments.


  • Full-buttoned looks on mens retro shirts:  In the late 1800s, a clothing house patented the full-buttoned vintage shirts Furthermore, at that time, having your initials stitched onto your vintage shirts was both fashion-forward as well as practical when you sent your shirts out for washing.


So ends our look back at ancient and early modern age originations and variations of mens retro shirts.

Engraving of Beau Brummell in an article in Harper’s, 1855

Engraving of Beau Brummell in an article in Harper’s, 1855

19th, 20th and current day spins on vintage shirts


The post-18th-century evolution of mens shirts is also a fascinating story, beginning with the industrialization of mens retro shirts. By the early 19th century, when manufacturing displaced farming in Europe and America, it became respectable to be a business man versus a landlord of leisure and vintage shirts became emblems of business power. Business leaders wore winged shirt collars with decorative studs under their three-piece suits.


Then came the Polo shirt evolution. By the late 19th century, the evolution of the polo shirt as a style of mens retro shirts took place. The upper crust players wore these sports shirts with button-down collars on the polo field.

Maxime Dethomas and unknown model at the Bulteau Estate c.1900

Maxime Dethomas and unknown model at the Bulteau Estate c.1900

  • Formal spins on mens retro shirts: At the dawn of the 20thcentury, vintage men shirt styles were very formal, with high stiff collars worn under fitted suits, conveying a strong message of strait-laced morality.


  • Integrated mens retro shirts: By the early 20thcentury, collars and cuffs were no longer detachable and were integrated back into vintage shirts, since washing machines did away with the need for detachable pieces.


  • Mens retro shirts styled the 1920s way: In the 20s, business men started to wear their vintage shirts with pointed collars instead of rounded ones. Also, in the 1920s, the age of blue-collared workers came into being and blue vintage shirts became the de facto uniform of labourers, while white vintage shirts remained the domain of management.

Men's Golfing Clothes, 1901

Men’s Golfing Clothes, 1901



The colourations of mens retro shirts added more to shirt evolution.  For formal occasions, the French cuff style in vintage shirts remained a popular style choice, with cuffs and collars in white and the shirt in a contrasting colour. Meanwhile, office wear vintage shirts went full solid in their colourations, worn under dark suits.


  • All collared down mens retro shirts:  In the 1930s, collar stays became a thing, similar to tie clips and designed to connect the two points of the collar to the necktie, keeping everything buttoned down and very proper.

Man in bowtie by Adolf de Meyer, 1900s

Man in bowtie by Adolf de Meyer, 1900s

Wars influence
  • Great Wars influence on mens retro shirts:  During the first and second world wars, vintage men clothing, from shirts to jackets to pants, were designed to reduce the amount of fabric used in the garments, and to use man-made fibres like nylon and viscose instead of wool.

Ansel Adams, 1950s

Ansel Adams, 1950s

Short sleeves
  • Short sleeve shirts evolution:  In the 1950s, mens retro shirts took the form of short sleeve shirts, even for work wear.  These more casual styles were still paired with formal ties and worn under vests for the finished office look.


  • Mens retro shirts get pockets:   In the 1960s, as vests and waistcoats fell out of fashion, chest pockets were added for utilitarian purposes.


You now have the inside scoop on the origins and variations and how vintage shirts and their elements have evolved through the past decades. Just getting started with mens retro shirts or a life-long vintage shirts aficionado, here are some of the best places to find your mens retro shirts from all of the past fashion decades.

Auto wreck, Washington, D.C., USA, 1923

Auto wreck, Washington, D.C., USA, 1923

Reproduction of vintage shirts


Mens retro shirts don’t need to be originals from bygone eras – there are plenty of options for reproductions that are based on authentic style but incorporate modern spins.


Gentlemen’s Emporium
  • Gentlemen’s Emporium:  Offers you a huge selection of reproduction mens retro shirts, from Victorian-styled vintage shirts all the way to punk rock styles from the 1980s.


  •  For everything done the western shirts way, visit this online marketplace designed along the theme of Victorian wild west fashion.


  •  Another cool place to source reproduction mens retro shirts that range from Edwardian styles to vintage shirts with detached collars and go with their coordinated accessories like vests, suspenders, ascots and bow ties.

Young Men and Women at open air dance

Young Men and Women at open air dance

  •  This virtual shopping place offers you custom-made mens retro shirts, tailored to exactly match your needs.  Made of high-quality fabrics and with expert craftsmanship, expect to source your investment vintage shirtshere.


Knickerbocker Co
  • Knickerbocker Co:  The perfect place to source your short sleeve shirts, long sleeve vintage shirts and all other variations, you will also find jackets, caps and suits here.

  • Levi’s:  The quintessential purveyor of mens retro shirts from way back in the 1800s to today.  Find variations on vintage shirts made out of chambray, denim and cotton, all based on original Levi’s patterns from early 20th century to the mid-1970s.


Prohibition Clothing
  • Prohibition Clothing:  This retailer offers you mens retro shirts reproduced from the 1920s and 1930s prohibition era, everything from vintage shirts to trousers, waistcoats and caps.

mens retro shirts_60s Purple Nylon Short Sleeve Shirt

60s Purple Nylon Short Sleeve Shirt

  • Simon James Cathcart or SJC:  Find here reproduced mens retro shirts from the decades of 1920 and 1940.  Casual vintage shirts done polo style or work shirt style, long sleeve work jackets and sweaters and other casual wear options to choose from.


  •  A great place to source styles from the 1940s and 1950s, with options ranging from vintage short sleeve shirts, long sleeve shirts, jackets, hats and more.


  •  Add some Brit flair from here. They offer classic tweed options, as well as both casual and formal wear in vintage men clothing choices.


  •  Another British-influenced option. They offer a range of handcrafted 1930s to 1950s vintage shirts in high quality fabrications and with coordinated shoes, trousers and jackets to go with.


These are just some of the many places where you can get reproduction styles from any of the past fashion decades that capture your interest.

Sourcing mens retro shirts for play


Moving from more formal vintage shirts, let’s take a look at more casual wear that you can rock on and off the sports field.


  • Retrospecd:  A cool place to source your Hawaiian, as well as casual short sleeve shirts, long sleeve shirts, pants and jackets to go with your casual mens retro shirts.


  •  If you are looking for vintage shirts inspired by bowling styles, this place offers you a huge selection of classic 1950s bowling shirts, plus camp shirts, lettered jackets and cardigans to finish your bowling-style outfit.


  • This Brit online store offers you mens retro shirts based on 1950s Hawaiian style, plus complimentary shorts and casual pants to pair with your vintage shirts.

mens retro shirts_80s Dark Geometric Silk Shirt

80s Dark Geometric Silk Shirt

  • The perfect place to find styles ranging from bowling shirts, western shirts, classic throwback vintage shirts to jackets and pants to finish your look from top to toe.


Just some of the places you can find them done the casual way.  Keep going for vintage shirts inspired by throwback workwear styles.
  •  Look to the east and Japan for vintage shirts done in classic and timeless work wear style.


Beyond Retro
  • Beyond Retro: Here, you will find limited edition styled along throwback work wear trends, and made of select heritage fabrics.


Madcap England
  • Madcap England:  Find this site on Amazon UK and take a look at the mens retro shirts from the 1960s and 1970s to go with mod work suits, jackets and pants.


Pike Brothers
  • Pike Brothers:  Another vintage menswear retailer of British throwback fashion, focused on work outfits that take mens retro shirts to the next level of sophistication.

In addition to these sources for classic and original mens retro shirts, there are also some great places highlighted below to find modern takes, inspired by heritage fashion trends that never went out of style.


  • Rokit:  They offer an enormous collection of imported outfits that are inspired by fashion from the 1920 to the 1940s.  Look for modern versions of mens retro shirts at amazingly low prices.


  •  Yes, this is the place to find the reinvention of the classic zoot suit, as well as vintage shirts to wear with this throwback trend.


  •  Look here for classic mens retro shirts done in modern fabrications. Seersucker and linen for summer, white vintage shirts with French cuffs for formal wear, and all the suits and pants to complete a head-to-toe look in one place.


Lastly, visit to find mens retro shirts mixed in with modern coordinated separates, and get the perfect mashup of with current trouser and jean trends.  Look for their 1920s collarless Gatsby shirt for true throwback panache.

mens retro shirts_Wrangler Multicolored Striped Western Shirt

Wrangler Multicolored Striped Western Shirt

More inspiration for mens retro shirts

You could also try My Baby Jo for a curated collection of inspired by 1950s fashion trends.  Look for short sleeve shirts, long sleeve shirts, jackets and swimwear. Ralph Lauren is a high-end source for all your mens retro styles in modern fabrications, with high quality construction and a designer label associated with timeless style.   Look here for the perfect workwear vintage shirts to elevate your 9-to-5 fashion game.


Rounding it all up are two quintessential British outlets, Oliver Brown, where British menswear is done the classic way.  From formal morning suits to office three-piece outfits, and the coordinated mens retro shirts to pair with these heritage styles.


Empire Outlet is another UK-based retailer offering you outfits in heritage fabrics like tweed and wool, as well as mens retro shirts with modern flair.  They have the added advantage of great prices to fit every budget.