The Ever-Practical Over-Shirt
Or, as I would call it, one of the most useful pieces that you might have not really tried yet - but probably should.
Author: Mateusz Tryjanowski
Despite its versatility and practicality, the overshirt has been mostly forgotten by sartorial enthusiasts, until fairly recently. Although its military and military-esque cousins - field jackets, uniform shirts, even safaris - have long been popular and widely available, this garment used to be overlooked. Had it been because of its mundane origins? No glorious stories, no war heroes, no legendary film appearances? Maybe. But that doesn’t make it any less interesting from our perspective.
The story of the overshirt can be safely described as peaceful. Although it had also been tested in difficult conditions, these were not trenches and battlefields, but workshops and factories. Not all over the world, amid wars and conflicts, but close to home, at work, in the neighborhood. Not developed by a professional army of military engineers, but created rather spontaneously, out of immediate need. Nevertheless, its form was still subordinated to the function - overshirt was born as a true workwear, acting as an additional layer that was meant to protect the garment against dirt and mechanical damage.
Oh, well - mentioning the layers, I should add that overshirts were not always designed to cover the shirt directly, nor replace one. Back in the late XIXth and early XXth century, the default outfit (worn daily) by men of all professions was a suit of some kind - therefore, protection was generally designed to go over it, right on top. Obviously, it also depended on the temperature etc., but the main plan was to wear an overshirt besides your standard clothes, not instead.
Today that doesn’t sound exactly intuitive - but remember, early overshirts were the prototypes of protective clothing as we know it today, from a doctor's scrubs to a mechanic's overalls, with tons of other forms in between. The original idea was just to have something easy to throw on top and practical, not supposed to fulfill any decorative functions, but to protect (durable material), accommodate many things useful at work (lots of pockets) and give freedom of movement (boxy cut). From this point on, evolution went in many different (specialized) directions and this is how modern workwear was born - and how its ancestor, not capable of doing its job any longer, fell into oblivion.
However, we sartorial aficionados (oh god, I can’t be using this phrase seriously), don’t need those cutting-edge, functional, modern garments purposefully designed for professionals. We would rather look to the past for inspirations, return to designs that are old, proven, sometimes even a bit archaic - simply classic. All in all, such things are affected by trends to a much lesser extent, their form remains generally similar, even if the function changes. Classic designs - one that have been in circulation for long enough - can gain themselves (with a little help from newly-found amateurs) a new purpose and meaning, even if they lose the original one.
So, time to put up a question: is an overshirt of any use today?
Simply put: YES. It is fit for almost any wardrobe, the same way as a pair of blue jeans or a field jacket are - simple as that.
It just so happens that all those military/workwear style garments can look modern and be worn 100% contemporary - and it applies for a well-made, well-fitting overshirt.
Even if you do not have anything in common with any physical work nor enjoy dressing up as an early XXth century carpenter, you can still appreciate a few nods to the good ol’ style and take the best out of it. After all, many fabrics that have completely lost their unique properties (best example: denim) are still in use, just because they look good. And although some details are theoretically just relics of some former functions (best example: pockets in an alarmingly large number), practically they have not become redundant, because even perhaps most of us do not carry a pocket watch, tape measure or a knife on a daily basis, phone, wallet and glasses still have to fit somewhere. That’s the new purpose and meaning I’ve told you about!
My advice? Get yourself a one proper overshirt and simply wear the hell out of it, treating it as a casual replacement for a sportcoat or a light jacket, something you can throw on without deliberate thinking and precise matching. Pair it with flannels, beige chinos, even jeans (if the color is right) - add a t-shirt, a dress shirt (maybe even with a tie?) or a sweater to the mix. And do not care too much about it, let it mould to your body and become truly yours.
Isn’t it just such a kind of garment that everyone might be in need of?
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