Flashback: Retro Ruffled Shirts

Posted on July 5, 2013


I have completed the Black Tie Guide’s Vintage Shirts page which previously only described shirts from the 1930s and ‘40s.  The period covered now extends back to the English Regency and forward to the late 1950s.  I arbitrarily ended the review at the 1960s because that’s when the so-called peacock revolution turned fashion on its head, creating styles I consider more “retro” than vintage (although I’m sure people born after 1990 would fail to see the distinction).

However, it would be shame not to share some of the horrendous images from that era that I’ve got tucked away so I am presenting here a history of the infamous ruffled shirt for your amusement and edification.  If nothing else, let this be a lesson on why you should never take your fashion cues from sources that mindlessly insist anything new is good and everything old is bad.

The decline in formal shirt fashions can be traced back to around 1957, the year that GQ made its first reference to ruffled fronts:


The trend then kicked into high gear when some fashion-forward celebrities wore such shirts to the 1959 Academy Awards.  By 1961 the formal ruffles were sometimes enhanced with coloured edging although they remained relatively small in size:


Pima batiste body, broadcloth bosom, collar and cuffs. Ruffles edges with black and white crochet stitch.

By 1965 the ruffles had grown in size to dominate the shirt front and had even infested the cuffs.  This one is by Lion of Troy, a company that had once offered dress shirts of a distinctly higher calibre:


In 1967 GQ touted a riot of textures and patterns that included tucks, scallops, accordion pleats, contrasting embroidery and “double ruffles”.  Two of the models were described as pale blue and pale pink, early harbingers of the colour revolution that was to follow shortly:


Lord West models on left, After Six on right.

With the Sixties counterculture in full swing and “formal” now a four-letter word, GQ announced the same year that some celebrities visiting tropical resorts had taken to wearing formal shirts such as this one sans dinner jacket:


Dacron and cotton shirt with pleated cuffs.

These groovy shirt styles from 1968 had no need for collars which meant the traditional bow tie could be replaced by the pictured gold-plated “neckpiece” with jade inset:


Cotton batiste models “Ruffles ‘n Flourishes” (A) and “Fancy Facade” (B).

Also in 1968 GQ featured this “super blue Prince Ferrari evening shirt with a subtly shaded pink, green and blue lace front.”


Cotton shirt with concealed side buttons and cuffs to match bosom.

Coloured formal shirts arrived in force in 1968 as shown in this pictorial of designer smocks.   (The bright blue number with a back-zippered turtleneck is veering awfully close to qualifying as women’s wear.)


Shirt details can be found in the pictorial’s text (which is almost as colourful as the shirts themselves.)

Another example of a shirt being worn without a jacket.  GQ claimed such informal outfits were “host suits”, suitable for hosting formal bashes at one’s home.

White moiré shirt with black and white overlay repeated on the black moiré trousers.

White moiré shirt with black and white overlay repeated on the black moiré trousers.

In case you were wondering if these coloured shirts looked good in context, they didn’t:


Full-on pirate dress from 1969 aka more jacket-less tropical resort wear:

Shirts of sheer cotton batiste by "Samo of Rome".

Shirts of sheer cotton batiste by “Samo of Rome”.

This 1970 ruffled number is worn with “formal jumpsuit” (two words that should never appear in the same sentence):

Outfit by Oscar de la Renta for After Six, part of the designer's premiere menswear collection.

Outfit by Oscar de la Renta for After Six, part of the designer’s premiere menswear collection.

This 1971 “all-polyester” floral-patterned shirt” is paired with an equally gaudy denim tuxedo:


Outfit by After Six.

A rainbow of bad taste from 1972:

In this 1974 ad After Six proudly proclaims they “banished the boiled shirt” and inexplicably market their replacements alongside plates of calorie-laden food:


More embroidered flowers:


Yet another twist – ruffles in contrasting colours to match the suit:

This 1976 ad would be one of the last to promote ruffled shirts:

The fashion world finally began to return to its senses in the mid-1970s when the hippies of the Sixties began morphing into the Yuppies of the Eighties.  Their developing taste for classically styled menswear was foreshadowed by the 1978 edition of Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette which advised that while off-white or pastel shirts were acceptable, ruffled flouncy shirts were not in good taste “and never were, in the opinion of many.”

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