A henley is a pullover shirt that looks something like a polo shirt, but without the collar. They feature a short, buttoned placket with somewhere between two and five buttons, and are available in short and long-sleeved varieties in a wide range of colors. A henley generally fits snugly, which reflects its origin as an athletic uniform, and the subsequent popularity of the style as a versatile undershirt.
The henley got its name from the uniform traditionally worn by rowing crews at the prestigious Henley Royal Regatta in the small British town of Henley-on-Thames. As Mr Porter notes, the regatta is one of the best-known rowing events in the world and is a fixture on the British social calendar in early July each year. Nineteenth-century crew teams would race in cotton jerseys with a short, buttoned placket. Henleys grew in popularity from there, and both short-sleeve and long-sleeve versions can be spotted in old photographs taken in the American West in the late nineteenth century. They were worn by miners, railroad workers, and iron workers.
Fast-forward to today, when the henley is commonly sold and worn as a more grown-up version of a T-shirt, one that can be paired with countless other pieces in your closet. Swapping a T-shirt for a henley adds a more sophisticated air to even the most casual of weekend outfits.
1. They’re versatile pieces for layering in the fall
The henley is an excellent all-purpose shirt for cooler weather or for autumn days that start out cold and then get surprisingly warm. A henley looks equally stylish worn under a shawl collar sweater or worn on its own for a warm afternoon. A henley is an excellent choice for a weekend uniform and will look great paired with raw denim or classic chinos, worn with a leather jacket or under a cardigan, and with boots or minimal canvas sneakers. As with all of the most versatile pieces in your wardrobe, a henley can be dressed up or down, and you can even wear a henley under a tweedy sportcoat in the fall.
2. They’re easy to find at your favorite stores and retailers
Another great quality of henleys is that while they aren’t nearly as ubiquitous as regular crewneck or V-neck tees on the average guy, they’re still fairly easy to find at almost any American mall. From J.Crew to Ralph Lauren to Uniqlo, many retailers have henleys in stock every season, which makes it easy to find one that fits you well. Favorite shops among the online-shopping menswear crowd, including Mr Porter, Unionmade Goods, Wings+Horns, Archival Clothing, Reigning Champ, and Mister Freedom, also stock a range of different henleys at varying price points. If you live in a cold state, you can find a henley cut of a heavyweight fabric, even thermal, while if you live in a warmer state, one in a lighter-weight fabric may be a more versatile choice.
3. Henleys are a more unique alternative to regular tees
When you’re going to put on a casual shirt, a henley is an unusual and appealing option. A fringe benefit that few guys would refuse is that the henley is practically proven as a much more attractive version of a simple crewneck or V-neck tee. (If you’re going to wear a casual shirt, why not add some visual interest and sex appeal?) To make the most of the henley’s casual appeal, leave the top button undone. Depending on the depth of the placket, you may even be able to unbutton one or two more. (No matter how proud you are of your physique, though, be sure not to go overboard, particularly if your henley has a deep placket with more than a couple of buttons.) Whatever your build, you can wear a henley well if you find one in a trim fit and in a neutral color; ecru, heather gray, charcoal, and navy blue are all good choices.