Rugby is a game of contrasts, and the best rugby shirts reflect that duality. On the one hand, it’s a sport played almost exclusively by dudes built like The Rock, who crash into one another over and over again with the unremitting fury and general chaos of a hotly-contested round of Hungry Hungry Hippos. On the other, it was invented by a bunch of prepsters at a British boarding school, which means it has all the peculiar etiquette and collegiate traditions of something like rowing baked right in.
Rugby shirts, similarly, are built thick and tough to survive opponents yanking on ‘em for 80 minutes straight, but they’re also refined and collared like their close relative the polo shirt. And they’re Swiss-army-knife versatile: you can throw one on alone with jeans or chinos or shorts, or you can sub it into just about any situation you’d normally wear a V-neck sweater (think over a button-down or under a blazer) to give your look a little extra ruggedness.
Bottom line, you need one. And, wouldn’t you know it, your pals at GQ have done all the heavy lifting for you. Cop one of the best rugby shirts for men below, wear it with everything, rack up the compliments. It’s that simple. Scrum on.
The Best Rugby Shirts Shopping Guide
The Ol’ Reliable Pick
You want something classic and preppy and built to last? You go with Ralph Lauren. And, as you might expect, Polo Ralph Lauren’s rugby shirt is damn near definitive: the stripes are thick, the knit is burly, the buttons are rubber (to prevent them popping off mid-tackle), the collar is begging to be popped. But the biggest selling point of all is the fit—trim but not tight, with enough room to wear one of Ralph’s just-as-iconic Oxford shirts comfortably underneath.
The All-Natural Pick
If you want a shirt that brings those sun-faded summer vibes to a fall classic, then everyone’s favorite earthy cross-the-pond label Story MFG has got you covered. This tonal, pastel-y pink number is dyed using all-natural plant fibers and has a boxy, every-so-slightly cropped silhouette so you don’t have to do any aftermarket mods to dial in the fit. And just in case you still weren’t sure if this shirt was gonna be the standout of your fall rotation, it’s got literal stars stitched onto the elbows.
The High-Minded Pick
Rugby shirts are usually characterized by their rugged makeups—heavyweight fleeces, twill collars, the like—but London’s Studio Nicholson has taken this British-bred staple to new elevated heights by doing it up in merino wool. Though it retains the signature contrast collar, it’s a bit of an optical illusion as that too is constructed of the plush knit fabric. What isn’t an illusion, however, is just how endlessly wearable this pared-down rugby polo is. Toss it on with jeans and sneakers for a minimalist weekend look or subvert its schoolboy leanings by throwing on oversized trousers and derbies.
The Not-So-Mass Market Pick
Brendon Babenzien’s formula of pushing J.Crew into the future by culling its 40-year past continues with a new-wave riff on this prep classic. But instead of your standard horizontal collegiate stripes, this one’s got the sort of multi-hued layout we’d normally expect to see on the going out shirts everyone was rocking two decades ago. To make it pop against the standard fare even more, Babenzien & Co. added a denim collar that gives this beauty the perfect balance of refinement and ruggedness.
The New York by Way of Nantucket Pick
Babenzien’s other gig as co-founder of Noah is also a reliable source of today’s streetwear-infused rumpled prep fare, and this riff on an erstwhile classic is a prime example of what the NY label does best. In construction it’s mostly traditional, but stands out for its splashy, nautically-vibed color combo that can instantly elevate any white tee and khakis without leaving you looking like you just got lost on the way to the library.
The Repentant Hypebeast Pick
The very fact that Fear of God Essentials set its sights on the rugby shirt should tell you that it is indeed a wardrobe stalwart—but that doesn’t mean their version is some run of the mill polo-collared pullover. Instead, the LA-based hype wizards conjured up a rugby with an extremely right now drop-shoulder design, a waffle knit construction, and a puddy color that brings to mind concrete-floored, sparsely furnished loft apartments. Plus, it’s got a logo that says you know what’s up when it comes to getting classic menswear from not-so-expected sources.
The Retro-Restored Pick
Rowing Blazers has made its name on faithful reproductions of iconic sportswear, from David Hockney’s striped rugby shirts to Princess Diana’s cheeky jumpers. So it tracks that this rugby shirt looks exactly like the version your dad would have worn in the 1970s, down to the primary color combo and big chest stripe. And because it’s made out of a seriously beefy 14 oz. cotton, it’ll last long enough to become a vintage grail your own kids will want to inherit.
The Classic-As-They-Come Pick
If you’re looking for authenticity, Barbarian is the way to go—the company’s knockabout gear has been put to the test on pitches the world over for four decades and counting. The brand’s rugby shirts are made in Canada out of premium 12 oz. fleece and feature all of the details you’d expect from a shirt designed to follow you into battle—which means it’ll hold up just fine accompanying you to the farmer’s market too.