As further proof that fashion – and men’s fashion in particular – operates entirely in cycles, I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many popover-style shirts at so many different retailers as I have this spring. Although it never disappeared, the popover hasn’t exactly been a mainstay of menswear since the 60’s, when Gant made up the style in oxford cloth and it became an instant favorite of the Ivy set. Certainly, there have always been men who’ve worn them, especially in Italy (as opposed to elsewhere in Europe) – Gianni Agnelli was, after all, well known for favoring them – but especially in America, they’ve been a purely casual item to be found mostly at Ivy retailers (Brooks Brothers, Gant, occasionally J. Press), and mostly made up in Ivy colors and fabrics.
The thing is, the popover wasn’t a new style when Gant “introduced” it to the East Coast (besides, Agnelli appears to have been wearing them – with a spread collar as opposed to a button-down collar – by that point). It’s full-length buttoning that’s relatively new, and which only appeared in the mid-1800’s. If you’ve ever browsed antique shirts, you’ve probably noticed that most of them – whether they’re the sought-after French workshirts or the “formal” English pieces – only sport half-plackets. It was only after the introduction of the full placket that popovers slowly disappeared across most of Europe and America.
Part of the recent dearth of popovers, at least in terms of contemporary fashion, must surely be due to our decade-long obsession with Tight Things. Since popovers must be pulled on over the head, they require a bit of extra room in the body to accommodate waving arms and wide shoulders, and I can only imagine that said extra room was anathema to most brands attempting to ride the slim fit wave. In addition, the view of popovers as a purely casual item didn’t do much for their popularity, but as tailored clothing continues to become less and less important to the daily lives of most men, it appears that popovers are – at least in some places – back on the menu, so let’s talk about how to wear them.
First, it’s easy to find casual popovers cut to a length that’s meant to be worn untucked. If you want to channel Ivy style, add a pair of chino shorts, a woven belt, and some penny loafers, and you’re set for summer on the Vineyard.
Spring and summer are, in my opinion, the perfect seasons for popover-wearing. The slightly relaxed cut, especially when done in a linen or linen blend, is great for warm weather, especially as a vacation shirt. That’s because it’s nice-looking enough that you can wear it out to dinner, but not so nice that you feel bad bundling it up with a beach towel. And you don’t have to be channeling the preppy thing, if you don’t want to. Roll up the sleeves, put on a pair of Vans, and you’ll look just great. Or do as men such as Gianni Agnelli and Yasuto Kamoshita do (Kamoshita also often wears polo shirts under his jackets), and wear yours under an odd jacket or with a suit. The point is that no matter the style you’re after, a popover is a great shirt to have in your wardrobe.
If you’re looking for casual options, affiliate Need Supply is a good place to start, as are brands like Gitman Vintage. If you’re open to wearing a band-collar shirt, those aren’t hard to find at all. Tailoring-friendly options are a bit less easy to come across, although Kamakura offers their own take on the Ivy classic, as does Brooks Brothers. Eidos has been known to offer both band-collar popovers and long-sleeve henleys in the past, and Ralph Lauren’s stock rotates regularly. Amusingly, Gant’s own popovers come and go as well, so you may have to do a bit of searching. If you know exactly what you’re after, Proper Cloth also offers popover plackets as an option.
It just so happens that affiliate No Man Walks Alone stocks this great linen popover from G. Inglese, which would look pretty darn good with one of those Solaro suits we keep talking about. Wear it with a tie or without, with laced shoes or loafers. However you decide to wear it, wear it in good health, and enjoy the good weather.