A shirt is a cloth garment for the upper body.
Originally an undergarment worn exclusively by men and women it has become, in American English, a catch-all term for a broad variety of upper-body garments and undergarments. In British English, a shirt is more specifically a garment with a collar, sleeves with cuffs, and a full vertical opening with buttons or snaps (North Americans would call that a "dress shirt", a specific type of "collared shirt"). A shirt can additionally be worn with a necktie under the shirt collar.
The world's oldest preserved garment, discovered by Flinders Petrie, is a "highly sophisticated" linen shirt from a First Dynasty Egyptian tomb at Tarkan, c. 3000 BC: "the shoulders and sleeves have been finely pleated to give form-fitting trimness while allowing the wearer room to move. The small fringe formed throughout weaving along one edge of the cloth has been placed by the designer to decorate the neck opening and side seam."
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 mediaeval 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 didn't wear shirts to bed were indecent. Even as late as 1879, a visible shirt with nothing over it was considered improper.
The shirt at times had frills at the neck or cuffs. In the sixteenth century, men's shirts often had embroidery, and at times frills or lace at the neck and cuffs and through the eighteenth century long neck frills, or jabots, were fashionable. Coloured shirts began to seem 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 become standard by 1920 and, in 1980, constituted the most commonplace event."
European and American women began wearing shirts in 1860, when the Garibaldi shirt, a red shirt as worn by the freedom fighters under Giuseppe Garibaldi, was popularised by Empress Eugénie of France. At the end of the nineteenth century, the Century Dictionary described an ordinary shirt as "of cotton, with linen bosom, wristbands and cuffs prepared for stiffening with starch, the collar and wristbands being usually separate and adjustable".
The first documented appearance of the expression “To give the shirt off one’s back,” happened in 1771 as an idiom that indicates extreme desperation or generosity and is still in common usage. In 1827 Hannah Montague, a housewife in upstate New York, invents the detachable collar. Tired of constantly washing her husband’s entire shirt when only the collar needed it, she cut off his collars and devised a way of attaching them to the neckband after washing. It wasn't until the 1930's that collar stays became popular, although these early accessories resembled tie clips more than the small collar stiffeners available today. They connected the collar points to the necktie, keeping them in place
- Camp shirt – a loose, straight-cut, short sleeved shirt or blouse with a simple placket front-opening and a "camp collar".
- Dress shirt – shirt with a formal (somewhat stiff) collar, a full-length opening at the front from the collar to the hem (usually buttoned), and sleeves with cuffs
- Poet shirt – a loose-fitting shirt or blouse with full bishop sleeves, usually with large frills on the front and on the cuffs.
- T-shirt – additionally "tee shirt", a casual shirt without a collar or buttons, made of a stretchy, finely knit fabric, usually cotton, and usually short-sleeved. Originally worn under additional shirts, it is now a common shirt for everyday wear in a few countries.
- Long-sleeved T-shirt – a T-shirt with long sleeves that extend to cover the arms.
- Ringer T-shirt – tee with a separate piece of fabric sewn on as the collar and sleeve hems
- Halfshirt – a high-hemmed T-shirt
- Sleeveless shirt – a shirt manufactured without sleeves, or one whose sleeves have been cut off, additionally called a tank top
- A-shirt or vest or singlet (in British English) – essentially a sleeveless 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
- Polo shirt (also tennis shirt or golf shirt) – a pullover soft collar short-sleeved shirt with an abbreviated button placket at the neck and a longer back than front (the "tennis tail").
- Baseball shirt (jersey) – usually distinguished by a three quarters sleeve, team insignia, and flat waist seam
- 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.
- 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.
- Top shirt – a long-sleeved collarless polo shirt
- Heavy shirt – a shirt with the heavy size that covers up under the neck
- onesie or nappy shirt – a shirt for infants which includes a long back that's wrapped between the legs and buttoned to the front of the shirt
- Sweaters – heavy knitted upper garments with long sleeves and at times cuffs.
- 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's attached to the front of the tube
Parts of shirt
Many terms are used to describe and differentiate types of shirts (and upper-body garments in general) and their construction. The smallest differences might have significance to a cultural or occupational group. Recently, (late twentieth century) it has become common to use tops to carry messages or advertising. Many of these distinctions apply to additional upper-body garments, such as coats and sweaters.
Shoulders and arms
- have no covering of the shoulders or arms – a tube top (not reaching higher than the armpits, staying in place by elasticity)
- have only shoulder straps, such as spaghetti straps
- cover the shoulders, but without sleeves
- have shoulderless sleeves, short or long, with or without shoulder straps, that expose the shoulders, but cover the rest of the arm from the biceps and triceps down to at least the elbow
- have short sleeves, varying from cap sleeves (covering only the shoulder and not extending below the armpit) to half sleeves (elbow length), with a few having quarter-length sleeves (reaching to a point that covers half of the biceps and triceps area)
- have three-quarter-length sleeves (reaching to a point between the elbow and the wrist)
- have long sleeves (reaching a point to the wrist to a little beyond wrist)
Shirts with long sleeves might further be distinguished by the cuffs:
- no buttons – a closed placket cuff
- buttons (or analogous fasteners such as snaps) – single or multiple. A single button or pair aligned parallel with the cuff hem is considered a button cuff. Multiple buttons aligned perpendicular to the cuff hem, or parallel to the placket constitute a barrel cuff.
- buttonholes designed for cufflinks
- asymmetrical designs, such as one-shoulder, one-sleeve or with sleeves of different lengths.
- hanging to the waist
- leaving the belly button area bare (much more common for women than for men). See halfshirt.
- 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 pyjama 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 "scoop" 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 quite formal occasions.
- straight collar – or point collar, a version of the windsor collar that's 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
- V-neck no collar – The neckline protrudes down the chest and to a point, creating a "V" looking neck line.
- pockets – how a large number of (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 aren't applicable, e.g. a tube top can't have a collar.
Types of fabric
There are two main categories of fibres used: natural fibre and man-made fibre (synthetics or petroleum based). Some natural fibres are linen, the first used historically, hemp, cotton, the most used, ramie, wool, silk and more recently bamboo or soya. Some synthetic fibres are polyester, tencel, viscose, etc. Polyester mixed with cotton (poly-cotton) is often used. Fabrics for shirts are called shirtings. The four main weaves for shirtings are plain weave, oxford, twill and satin. Broadcloth, poplin and end-on-end are variations of the plain weave. After weaving, finishing can be applied to the fabric.
Shirts and politics
In the 1920s and 1930s, fascists wore different coloured shirts:
- Black shirts were used by the Italian fascists, and in Britain, Finland and Germany and Croatia. The party leaders of Dravidar Kazhagam in India wear only black shirts to symbolise atheism.
- Brownshirts were worn by German Nazis of the SA.
- The Blueshirts was a fascist movement in Ireland and Canada, and the colour of the Portuguese Nacional Sindicalistas, the Spanish Falange Española, the French Solidarité Française, and the Chinese Blue Shirts Society.
- Green shirts were used in Hungary, Ireland, Romania, Brazil and Portugal.
- Camisas Doradas (golden shirts) were used in Mexico.
- Red shirts were worn by the racist and antisemitic Bulgarian Ratniks.
- Silver Shirts were worn in the United States of America.
In addition, red shirts have been used to symbolise a variety of different political groups, including Garibaldi's Italian revolutionaries, nineteenth century American street gangs, and socialist militias in Spain and Mexico throughout the 1930s.
Different coloured shirts signified the major opposing sides that featured prominently in the 2008 Thai political crisis, with red having been worn by the supporters of the populist People's Power Party (PPP), and yellow being worn by the supporters of the royalist and anti-Thaksin Shinawatra movement the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD). Each side is commonly referred to as the 'red shirts' and 'yellow shirts' respectively, though the later opponents of the later Thaksin supporting groups have largely ceased wearing yellow shirts to protest rallies.
In the UK, the Social Credit movement of the thirties wore green shirts.