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The bowling shirt has been priming for a comeback. For years, the humble style has felt as stale as the old cigarettes-and-beer scent of a dusty bowling alley, evoking at best the cast of The Big Lebowski and, at worst, Charlie Sheen in Two and a Half Men.
But the spring and summer of 2022 may see it once again covering backs, even if a bowling pin is nowhere to be seen. It’s been taken up by labels as diverse as Engineered Garments, whose interpretation sports a characteristic abundance of pockets, Barena, which keeps things classic in a muted awning stripe, and Wales Bonner, which found inspiration in the nightlife of 1970s Burkina Faso to fashion its floral-print model.
Reginald Christian, who works as the men’s fashion market manager for Saks, traces the rise of the bowling shirt back to the mid-century when they became more than just recreational sportswear. “The bowling shirt became a popular style in the 1950s once guys no longer viewed the shirt as a uniform for professional league bowlers,” he tells Robb Report. “Today we can find this shirting style updated with fresh fabrications such as silk or eye-catching prints that feel modern.”
Fittingly, some of Christian’s favorite bowling shirts from this season include boundary-pushers like the aforementioned piece from Wales Bonner, as well as an abstract, multi-colored viscose shirt from Dries Van Noten and a decidedly luxurious interpretation by Valentino made from silk-lined polyamide with a transparent floral design. But when does a bowling shirt stop being a bowling shirt? According to Christian, reinterpretations can get as wild as they want so long as a few vital criteria are met: “A good bowling shirt will have key hallmarks such as a boxy fit, short sleeves, a button-up front, and a collar that lays flat against the shirt.”
On the other side of the spectrum, Todd Snyder has decided to go back to basics with its newest iteration, which is cut from a blend of rayon and cotton and sports minimal embellishments apart from a contrasting collar. “We’ve done a lot of versions of the bowling shirt over the years, but this one is a bit more refined and feels more modern,” Snyder says, noting that the lack of graphics, logos or embellishments gives it considerable versatility. “We wanted something super clean and easy.”
Should you be apprehensive about throwing a sartorial gutter ball, Snyder assures us that the style comes with built-in bumper rails. “The best part of the bowling shirt is that it goes with anything,” the designer says. “You could pair it with swim trunks if you’re in Miami or Fire Island or keep it simple with some dark denim or chinos.”
And no matter how it’s worn or redesigned, Snyder believes that the bowling shirt will continue to abide. “Bowling has always been part of Americana, and the bowling shirt has that retro appeal that can be worn by anyone. It’s simple, it’s timeless and it can be created in endless iterations.”