Here’s Why Button-Down Shirts Have Loops on the Back

3 mins read

There have been numerous fascinating mysteries surrounding the apparel industry over the years. In previous articles, we have already discussed why garments shrink in the wash, how to understand laundry care labels on clothing, and why shorts are more expensive than pants.

However, one persistent puzzle is: Who knows what is going on with that strange loop on the back of button-down shirts.

Commonly found on dress shirts for both men and women, the loop is a little strip of fabric that fills the region between the shoulder blades, where the yoke (upper back) of the shirt joins the pleat (in the front and back).

Pulling on it can indeed be a great way to irritate someone, but history reveals that it initially served another more practical purpose. It was amongst navy sailors, who did not have much wardrobe or storage free space for their uniforms, that the loops first gained widespread recognition. The loops were designed to hang the shirts from a hook to make hanging them away and drying them more convenient.

The Navy, however, was not the only one that used the loops. Clothing maker GANT introduced a locker loop to their formal wear in the 1960s to allow its customers, mostly Ivy League college students, to hang their shirts in their lockers, preventing them from being wrinkled. (Originally, the loop was attached to the collar at the back.)

Students afterward reused the loops to describe their current romantic situation (or lack thereof). The absence of a man’s loop indicated that he was involved with another person. Wearing their boyfriend’s scarf to show that they were engaged was another fashion-related signal adopted by women.

Extremely eager partners were known to pull the loop off in the heat of the moment, which has become something of a fashion in the 1960s. Women with crushes who wore Moss brand shirts at the time claimed that their hooks were too secure and reliable to be taken off.

To accommodate clients who desired a loop without destroying their shirt, one mail-order firm provides to ship only the loops directly to their doorstep.

The loops can still be found on shirts today, even though they appear to have no social value at all. It is more likely than not that a damaged one results from normal wear and tear rather than a person’s current relationship situation.

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