How the ‘Twickenham Dad’ rugby look is suddenly cool again
This weekend, thousands of rugby fans will descend on Murrayfield, the Aviva Stadium in Dublin and the Stade de France for the final round of the Six Nations. Many of the fans will be dads. Many will be dressed in loose-fitting jeans or chinos and rugby shirts. Quite possibly with a pair of boat shoes on their feet and a Barbour jacket if it’s chilly. Classic, casual and above all: comfortable.
There is nothing surprising about any of this, you might think. It has been the uniform of the rugby dad since Will Carling was in nappies. The difference is, this time – the dads are cool.
Proving yet again that in fashion all things must come to pass, the rugby dad aesthetic is back. M&S Menswear is advertising a “Varsity Rules” selection, heavy on rugby tops. From Brooklyn to Bow, mannequins in hip shops increasingly look like they have just stepped out of a Range Rover and are about to buy you a pint. In the most recent series of The White Lotus, Albie, the naive preppy Gen Z character played by Adam DiMarco, wore a rugby shirt with cargo shorts, like a dad at a barbecue.
But it is not only men who have succumbed. This week, Hailey Bieber and Rihanna were both spotted wearing identical outfits: loose jeans and a blue Loewe rugby top. In an interview with Harpers’ Bazaar last month, Chloë Sevigny revealed she was wearing a rugby shirt to the playground because “it’s warm, it’s easy, it’s casual.”
Meanwhile, twenty-somethings raid their fathers’ wardrobes for “vintage” rugby tops to sell on Depop. It was the resurgent interest in these styles that caused M&S to revive its moribund ‘St Michael’ label at the end of 2021, while other preppy companies, like Gant, which seemed beyond saving, find themselves desirable again.
“The rugby shirt comeback doesn’t surprise me when you think about just how easy it is to wear,” says Lawrence Schlossman, co-presenter of the influential New York menswear podcast Throwing Fits. “It has more heft than a polo, but [is] less stuffy than an oxford. It’s an unassuming, underrated workhorse that easily slots into any guy’s wardrobe.”
The rugby shirt has its origins in boarding schools – Rugby, namely – in the mid-19th century, where rugby itself was invented. Early team kits were made of heavy wool, but players found them too hot and itchy, so in time this gave way to heavy-gauge cotton shirts, with a contrasting collar. By the 1860s, the rugby shirt as we know it was the established kit.
Although it was invented in England, the rugby shirt has long been a quintessential part of the preppy American wardrobe. It is David Hockney’s trademark look, while Mick Jagger has also been a fan.
Its origins as team kit mean that it has always come in any number of colours and designs – hooped, checked or striped – and part of its recent revival is due to its versatility. Depending on your mood, a rugby top can be streetwear, or outdoors-wear (“Gorpcore”, in fashion’s parlance), as well as a preppy look. The promise of the rugby top is that it is rugged enough that you could climb a mountain in it in the morning, but smart enough for a drinks party in the afternoon.
In America, where rugby is less popular, it comes with the glamour of the unknown: a mysterious foreign practice in which posh people push each other around in the mud.
The revival of the rugby top has gone hand in hand with the loosening of trousers, to complete the signature Twickenham Dad look. Mercifully the sun has at last set on skinny jeans, which have given way to more classic fits, whose silhouettes go better with a looser top. These trousers also go equally well with boat shoes, loafers or trainers: conveniently, the Twickenham Dad footwear of choice.
Here we must sound a note of caution: a slight misstep on jeans fit or footwear choice and you risk straying into the much-mocked “jeans and sheux” look (look it up on Twitter): rightly derided as one of the most prevalent and pernicious looks around. Observing a few simple rules: no bootcut, no square toes, no tan leather, should make things easier.
Sadly, there is one place you will not find the rugby look this weekend: on the pitch. For the players, the traditional, thick-cotton, high-collar rugby shirt was replaced many years ago by skin-tight shirts made from high-tech synthetic materials. They might be harder for opponents to grab on to in the scrum, but they are less forgiving on the traditional dadbod. The reasons dads favour loose-fitting clothes are not all to do with fashion.
Left to right: Merino wool, £250, youmustcreate.com; Denim and cotton, £35, marksandspencer.com; Cotton, £125, gant.co.uk