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 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 ’80s Heartthrob Pick
The rugby shirt had its last great heyday in the 1980s, when fellas like Sam Malone and Thomas Magnum wore them rakishly and ruggedly every week on network television—back when that still really meant something. The latest rugby from Drake’s borrows the flattering trim cut and thin bright stripes from that era, and nails all the minor details—from the heft of the fabric to the length of the cuffs—necessary for a true vintage look. Tuck it into your 501s, leave all the buttons undone, and go have a drink someplace where everybody knows your name.
The Extremely-Right-Now 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. As far as we can tell, though, this blown-up checkerboard number is entirely of their own invention. It boasts the same old school, heavyweight construction as RB’s other rugby creations, but feels bang on for 2021 as far as aesthetics are concerned.
The 75-and-Humid Pick
Rugby shirts work wonders nine months out of the year, but when that summer heat rolls around? Forget it. All that impenetrably dense fabric need not apply. Through his always-great partnership with Champion, though, Todd Snyder found a way to lighten up the huskiest of shirts—by flipping it in breezy, slubby madras that’s just the right weight of a cool night on the beach. The result still feels sporty and tough, but won’t suffocate you in sweat the minute the forecast calls for anything above 70.
The Modern Classic Pick
Few labels have done more to set the rugby renaissance in motion than Noah, who made the brawny pullovers a core staple of their punkish prep universe from the very jump. The key to Noah’s rugby shirts is a near-perfect balance of traditionalism (they’re crafted in Canada by an age-old rugby outfitter from game-ready “practice cloth” cotton) and swerviness (they’ve been doused in florals, flirted with Mandarin collars, and even flipped into hockey jerseys). This particular take lands on the subtler side—with black and gray stripes so razor thin it looks solid from a distance—but it’s still a Noah rugby, which means it’s endlessly wearable and effortlessly cool.