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The Playbook

The Henley is the Most Versatile Shirt You Can Own. Also, it’s Damn Handsome.

You’re a stylist for a film. You’re tasked with dressing a rough and tumble leading man. You have one go-to shirt for achieving maximum badassery. Easy choice: The Henley.

Look it up. Gunslingers like Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens, and Ryan Gosling in pretty much every movie he’s in — all don the collarless button-up undergarment.

Why? The button placket that bisects the chest makes for a handsome fit that’s dressier than a t-shirt yet not as preppy as a polo. It also layers wonderfully.

Despite being sartorially cinematic, the henley’s roots are actually in the sport of rowing, helming from the English town of Henley-on-Thames. The town was home of the Royal Regatta dating back to 1839.

Mornings can be cold in dreary old England. But, as any athlete knows, once you get moving things can heat up quickly, so the rowers adapted the shirt as an undergarment that allowed for ventilation via its three button placket.

It was dubbed the undervest, and, rumor has it, became the Henley after Ralph Lauren got his hands on it. Lauren’s biographer, Michael Gross, reported that a vintage merchant showed him a three button Johnston Knitting Mills version in the 1970s.

Of course, Brits were still wearing henleys; the Beatles were often seen wearing them. (Fun fact: the late George Harrison eventually bought an estate in Henley-on-Thames, and his widow still lives there.)

The henley was likely introduced to the States by British immigrants in the 1800s, a time when activewear was gaining popularity. Historian Daniel Hill writes in American Menswear that fitness became an American obsession after the Civil War, when factories replaced farms and people not only had time to enjoy themselves but also more products.

The original henley was cotton, and the versions made for Americans had a stretch to them. Modern versions have advanced to include performance materials.  

Our henleys — both short sleeve and long — come in our 100% Merino Active Jersey. The superfine 18.5 micron merino is thermoregularing, odor resistant, and water repellant, making them ideally suited for an active lifestyle.

And like the genuine article, they look good enough to stand the test of time.

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