Henley shirts are comfortable, practical, great for layering and good for all seasons. Unfortunately, following an explosion of contrast-collared versions unleashed upon the world by a men’s high-street retailer that shall remain nameless, the henley fell from favour dramatically among style-savvy guys from the late 2000s onwards.
That all changed in 2021. Daniel Craig’s final film as MI6 agent and eternal style icon James Bond saw him don one of the button-up tees during a particularly action-packed scene. Suddenly, the henley shirt became cool again and it wasn’t long before designers had reintroduced the style into their seasonal collections, and the rest of us had added it back onto our shopping lists.
If you’re looking to rekindle your relationship with the henley then you’ve come to the right place. Here we look at the details of one of menswear’s most misunderstood casual pieces, including how to wear it and which brands do it best.
What Is A Henley Shirt?
The henley shirt takes its name from the English town of Henley-on-Thames, famous for the Henley Royal Regatta rowing event. It was the traditional uniform worn by rowers, made from cotton, with a round collar and a placket with three or more buttons to the neck.
Historically, henley shirts were popular undergarments too, and it wasn’t until the late 1970s that they made the transition into being seen as a sort of T-shirt alternative.
Today henley shirts often feature a slimmer cut than a regular T-shirt, which makes them perfect for layering, and are often made from a textured cotton, like a ribbed or waffle knit.
Thinking about reintroducing a henley shirt into your wardrobe? Here are three key points to consider before deciding which one to choose.
Fit is always the most important aspect to consider, regardless of the garment. It’s crucial to get this right or even the most expensive, beautifully made pieces will look bad. Generally speaking, henley shirts are supposed to fit fairly slim in the body – think form-hugging without being restrictive or tight. Outside of that, the seams where the arms join the body should sit neatly on top of the shoulders and the hem should fall somewhere just above the hips.
A classic henley shirt is white in colour, and while it doesn’t have to be, we do feel that this is one of those pieces that works best in simple, monochrome or neutral shades. It’s a background garment that’s designed to blend in, and as such, colours like white, black, navy, off white, grey and dark green work best.
You have two options here: short sleeve and long sleeve. Which one you should pick depends largely on the time of year, where you live and how you plan on wearing the shirt.
We’d suggest going for a short-sleeve version if you’re looking for an alternative to a plain T-shirt for the warmer months, but if you want to stay true to tradition then a long sleeve design is the best way to go.
How To Style A Henley Shirt
Thanks to its simplicity and low-profile fit, the henley shirt is extremely versatile and easy to style in a variety of ways. In warm weather it works great on its own in place of a traditional T-shirt, and can be worn with shorts and sneakers, or smartened up with trousers and casual shoes in the evening.
Henley shirts are also excellent for layering in the colder months. It’s a more interesting alternative to a T-shirt, and the placket helps to add depth when layered with pieces like shawl-collar cardigans and V-neck sweaters. Aim for at least three layers, and top it off with some substantial outerwear and rugged essentials like leather work boots and raw denim jeans.
The Best Henley Shirt Brands
US-based Everlane is always a good option for fuss-free essentials. The brand’s Waffle Long-Sleeve Henley is made from 100% organic cotton and comes in three subtle shades for maximum versatility. There’s also the ReCashmere Henley, which is slightly pricier but is made from recycled Italian cashmere for zero waste and a luxuriously soft hand feel.
It’s not all yoga pants and vests at Lululemon. Having pretty much single-handedly started the athleisure movement, the Canadian gym clothing brand branched out into more conventional casualwear too. The label’s Fundamental Henley is made from soft cotton fabric with added Lycra for comfort and stretch, whether you’re perfecting your side plank or just milling around town at the weekend.
Laid back, grungy and perfect for layering, henley shirts are exactly the sort of garments AllSaints does brilliantly. The London-based brand offers a selection of henleys in all the key colours, with fits ranging from fitted to oversized, and fabrics spanning cotton through merino.
For a premium option, we’d encourage you to take a look at the henley shirts available from Tom Ford. The label is probably best known for its razor-sharp, form-flattering tailoring, but it’s just as good at producing everyday casualwear with a luxurious slant. Prices are naturally a tad higher than elsewhere, but if you’ve got the budget, a Tom Ford Henley is one of the best you can get.
Rag & Bone
If you liked the look of James Bond’s henley shirt in No Time To Die then check out the selection at Rag & Bone. You can even buy the exact model worn by Daniel Craig in the movie (abs and rugged good looks sold separately).
For solid basics at reasonable prices, there are few better options than Uniqlo. The Japanese high-street retailer is known for delivering well-fitting, well-built essentials like Oxford shirts and tees, but it even makes the odd henley shirt too. Styles change from season to season, but there tends to be a waffle or ribbed henley of some description in the collection. Usually they come in a classic fit, and offer great value for money.