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The History of The Henley


the history of the henley

I’m a clothing nerd.

There, I said it. I love learning the technical details of why clothes are the way they are. Ever wonder why women’s shirts have buttons on the left rather than the right? It’s because in the medieval ages, women royalty were dressed by servants- who wanted the buttons on their right.

I find the history of how garments came to be fascinating. Needless to say, I did a lot of research on henleys while building my company. Here’s their story.

By definition, a henley is a collarless knit shirt with a placket of two or more buttons down the front. They were first worn in the early nineteenth century as a modified men’s undergarment. Since they lacked a collar and were looser fitting in the chest, they were more comfortable than traditional undershirts.

So how did a loose fitting undergarment become a staple of men and women’s fashion? It began with the sport of rowing and the English town of Henley.

henley on the thames

Henley is on the Thames River and home to the Royal Regatta. In the nineteenth century, the Royal Regatta was basically the Super Bowl of England. Viewers came from all over the country to watch top rowers compete on the Thames. Since it was kind of a big deal, athletes were looking for any edge they could get on their opponents. Rowing requires a wide range of motion, and at some point a daring athlete tried wearing a new type of loose undergarment. It worked so well that soon all rowers at the Royal Regatta were wearing it, and the henley was born.

The henley remained a sportswear shirt until it was discovered in 1970 by a guy named Ralph Lauren (never heard of him). T-shirts had become an acceptable every day shirt, and Ralph saw the henley’s potential as a new type of casual shirt. He introduced the Ralph Lauren Henley in 1976, which catapulted the style into popular fashion. Slimmer fitting than the original shirt, the Ralph Lauren Henley is the pattern most modern henleys are modeled after.

Today henleys are on the rise again, but this time for both men and women. Our henleys have taken what pattern makers have learned over two centuries and distilled them down to the ideal fit, fabric, and function.

womens henley history

If you’ve been looking to step up your outfit game but aren’t sure where to turn, remember the intrepid rower who gave henleys chance. Not only did he win the race, but he looked stylish doing it.

-S