The men's henley shirt can be hard to classify. From the first glance, it looks—and feels—like a t-shirt. What sets it apart are its long sleeves, and more importantly, the three-button placket that extends downward from its rounded neckline.
It's a mystery to us as to why henley shirts aren't more well-known and popular. After all, the unique design and characteristics of the henley shirt make it a cold weather essential.
For a clue as to what makes the henley shirt invaluable in colder temperatures, all you need to do is look back on its long history. In fact, the henley shirt existed before the name "henley shirt" was ever spoken aloud—prior to that, it was just men's underwear.
What we today call a henley shirt was once widely worn as an undershirt in 19th century England. In the days before central heating and thermal undershirts, a long-sleeved cotton garment that could be worn below a gentlemen's proper clothing was essential for staying warm through the island nation's wet, drafty winters. It was the Henley Royal Regatta that brought the henley shirt into the open—and gave it its name.
Since 1839, the Henley Royal Regatta has been held on the River Thames in England, not far from the town of Henley-on-Thames. When it began, performance fabrics and sportswear didn't yet exist. Instead, rowers simply wore their undershirts while competing. Before too long, the undershirts put on full display by the rowing teams became known as "henleys."
You don't have to be holding an oar yourself to appreciate the warmth and comfort provided by a henley shirt. Just consider it one of the most versatile layering pieces for your fall wardrobe.
When fall begins, you can use it as a beefier alternative to the t-shirts you had been wearing through the summer time. As it's such a close relative of the t-shirt (which was also once worn as underwear), you can wear it in much the same way. Match it to a pair of men's jeans and your favorite boots or sneakers. Later in the season, you can easily slide it under a denim or leather jacket.
Once temperatures really began to slip, you'll find that the henley shirt makes for a wonderful base layer. Wear it under a crewneck sweater, chunky shawl collar cardigan or even a turtleneck and appreciate the extra warmth it provides.
However, the utility of the henley shirt in wintertime isn't just limited to layering below men's sweaters. In fact, it can be repurposed as a pajama shirt or worn as loungewear around the house.
Some henleys are made specifically for sleeping. These pajama henley shirts look nearly identical to other henley shirts but are often made from a softer fabric such as brushed ringspun cotton. Their long sleeve design affords the same level of coverage that would come from a broadcloth pajama shirt, with the added bonus of a heftier fabric and a more rugged appearance.
But the use of a henley pajama shirt isn't limited to sleep itself. Once you've climbed out of bed on a frigid winter morning, you'll want to stay in your henley shirt and match it to a pair of warm men's flannel pajama pants. This winter morning uniform will keep you feeling cozy even as you wait for that first cup of hot coffee to brew in the kitchen.
A henley pajama shirt can be used for indoor layering as well. If you do need an extra touch of warmth, throw a shawl collar cardigan or a terry robe over your shoulders and enjoy the comfort.