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These Rugby Shirts Are a Lesson in Timeless Style

High Praise for The Brand from Esquire

Rowing Blazers founder Jack Carlson sat down with Esquire to talk about our rugby shirts. Click here to view the article or read below. 

"Menswear brand Rowing Blazers makes, as you might expect, blazers. Founder Jack Carlson is an archaeologist and a member of the U.S. rowing team, and he became fascinated with the casual jackets that actual rowing crews wore way back in the day to keep warm while working out—basically the OG track jackets or hoodies. So he decided to recreate them for the modern era.

But that's not the only thing Carlson and his crew are turning out. The company also makes one of our favorite button-down oxfords and now, a lineup of rugby shirts inspired by styles from throughout the sport's history. "As an archaeologist, I'm fascinated by the history of objects, and that is an important part of everything we do at Rowing Blazers," Carlson explains. "Since I was a little kid, the rugby shirt has been a key part of my uniform. It still is. So when I wanted to add rugbies to our assortment, I did a deep dive into the history of the shirt and the sport.

"Ironically enough, it’s by going all the way back to the origins, and by really doing your homework and doing things properly, that you discover the stuff that looks the coolest and is in some ways the most innovative and the most modern," Carlson continues. "And that’s what determines which rugbies we recreate too. It’s an aesthetic choice: It’s the things that are simultaneously really authentic, that do more than pay lip service to 'heritage' and 'history,' but that can also be worn in a way that is very relevant, very accessible, very now. Those aren’t contradictory ideas."

"The vintage jerseys that we’ve picked hit the high points of most major nations in international rugby," Carlson explains, noting the addition of countries like Wales and France to the lineup. "But there are other factors I think about as well: I’m attracted to vintage jersey designs that feature beautiful, oversized embroidery. The remake of the Japan 1932 rugby team jersey, for example, features an extra-large satin-stitch cherry blossoms motif. It looks very modern, and it’s unlike what anyone else is doing—precisely because it’s true to the original." (Carlson also recreated the genuine OG rugby shirt—complete with band collar and skull-and-crossbones.)

There are also, of course, those stripes. "I love unusual stripes," says Carlson. To that end, Rowing Blazers has recreated a couple of styles that might not rank very high when it comes to their significance to the history of the sport, but just plain look cool. "The black and white vertical stripe design we just added is not connected to any particular team, but comes from a vintage rugby-themed ad. The red-and-blue horizontal band on a solid white rugby shirt actually comes from the jersey design of an American University squad that toured Europe in the '70s."

The way Carlson sees it, the rugby shirt isn't going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, it's likely on the upswing (something we at Esquire have been noticing, too). "I think menswear is at the beginning of a rugby shirt renaissance," he says."And I want to be at the forefront of that movement. I think there’s plenty of room for us to do slightly more expected hoop-stripe rugbies and solids, and to do them with the same quality, weight, and attention to detail we’re doing now. But at the moment, I’m really driven by the most beautiful things from the past—whether it’s the 1870s or the 1970s.""