The bowling shirt: It’s all in the color
They are easy to distinguish on the street. Box-cut, short-sleeved shirts with a button-up fronts and flat collars are hard to miss. But what really makes them special are the colors.
Bowling shirts usually combine bright hues in unlikely combinations. A blue shirt with a red front panel and collar is perfectly acceptable while a classic black-and-white combination stands out in a crowd.
The clothing has experienced a surge of popularity similar to bowling itself, becoming part of the young professional’s culture.
“We had a bunch of shirts in a few months ago,” says Joe Edgar, who manages Avalon Exchange in Oakland. “They sold pretty quickly.”
Edgar says that most of the people who bought used bowling shirts were professionals in their 20s and 30s, calling them “hipsters.”
“You’ll see people wearing them on the street all the time,” Edgar says.
Bowling shirts were made popular by youths in 1950s, who wore the new style to dances, malt shops and school functions. For decades, they were usually seen only on league players during game nights. Once old shirts hit the second-hand market, many clothing companies picked up the design and began making them en masse.
“Serious bowlers have always worn them,” says Tim Coggeshall of the St. Louis-based online service Bowlingshirt.com. “But casual wearers have boosted the industry.”
Beyond selling bowling shirts as a youthful fashion statement, Bowlingshirt.com also sells packages to corporations buying custom shirts as uniforms or event shirts.
“It’s a fun change from the same old T-shirt or polo shirt,” Coggeshall says.
The style is also popular among high-school and college students, who wear bowling shirts to classes, parties and interviews.
“It’s different,” says Marcy McMahon as she dons an oversized bowling shirt at the Goodwill on South Side. “It looks a little nicer than a T-shirt, but it’s not too dressy.”
Despite the retro style making a comeback, few professional bowlers wear the old-school shirts during competitions.
“Most of them wear polo shirts,” Coggeshall says.