Nowadays, the popover shirt seems to be a forgotten article in the casually dressed consciousness of America. Typically made of woven cloth as opposed to a knit, a popover features a button-down collar and a front button placket that ends roughly at the middle of the torso, which differentiates it from the plain collar or open placket of a typical sport shirt. Essentially, the popover is the polo’s formal cousin – great for elevating otherwise bland, casual outfits. And as the summer’s heat grows ever more daunting, it offers a unique alternative to an ordinary polo or other types of collared shirts.
In the early 20th century, most dress shirts had limited plackets. Over the following decades, these shirts evolved to have a modern, open placket (“coat” style as it was often called), but it wasn’t until the 1950s/’60s that the popover in its contemporary sense was truly popularized by brands like “Gant,” crucial tastemakers of the Ivy League look. Playing toward the flippant, yet still relatively traditional sensibilities of the collegiate style that permeated American culture during the era, they became quite common; though, like the high rise chinos or sack jackets of the time, the popover fell out of demand as the youth and general populace of America clung to shifting fashion trends.
But luckily for me, I have two short-sleeve popovers from that golden age of menswear that are going to get a ton of wear this summer.
The first is by the aforementioned “Gant,” one of the great American shirt-makers, and as such has their signature rear-collar button and locker loop, while the second is from “Mark, Fore, and Strike,” a now defunct menswear store that was located in Florida. Both feature a requisite 3 button placket (although some popovers indeed have more), an unlined button down collar, and they are adorned with rounded hems and side gussets – subtle intricacies that enthusiasts who care for such things might enjoy.
The Gant is made of “Batiste Oxford,” and it’s perfectly lightweight. I thoroughly enjoy its large striped pattern of olive, green and brown, which I’ve found pairs well with a lot of different ensembles. The other number is made of cotton madras (maybe the best warm-weather fabric) in a plaid pattern of cream, blue, maroon, and blue, and is also immensely lightweight. Truthfully, the fabrics and patterns of both shirts would be near impossible to come by in the ready-to-wear market today. Maybe that makes both shirts more appealing as if they were some type of historical artifact, but it’s also somewhat disconcerting that such a well-made and versatile shirt can’t be easily found today. Sure, a handful of clothing brands provide an acceptable and modern popover, but I’ve personally found them to be of average quality at best, as well as a little too henley-ish with small collars and overly tight bodies – elements that diminish their understated formality.
Still, despite the branding at the collar or the provenance of the shirt itself, the popover is the perfect middleman when forgoing more traditional warm weather shirts like polos or common sport shirts. Long or short sleeve, they wear just as well at the beach with trunks and espadrilles as they do with chinos and canvas sneakers for a day in town. Keep your eyes open as this is definitely the season to have one.