I Miss Rugby

After a mild start to the year with many sunny days for golf and tennis, a fresh batch of cold weather has hit Ivy Style’s New York headquarters, and so despite being an hour behind following a sneak-attack by Daylight Savings Time, I find myself sitting down to gather my thoughts on a topic I’ve wanted to write about all season.

I miss Rugby.

As in the Ralph Lauren brand that existed from 2004 to 2013. Rugby started to take off in August 2008 when it added e-commerce to its website. This was right when I was preparing to launch Ivy Style, so there was a sense of being part of a neo-prep zeitgeist, or what we came to call here the Ivy Trendwatch. I also ended up writing several pieces for Rugby’s blog.

But what I really miss about Rugby is the styling: the fantasy narrative settings like Polo did for so long, and the crazy go-to-hell outfits. Rugby’s absence has left an inspiration and eye-candy void that hasn’t been filled by Red Fleece and Polo, which is still largely in “downtown” mode. Sure many of the outfits were affected to the point of absurdity, but we’re talking about fashion marketing images here, which shouldn’t be taken as literal guides on how to dress. Yet Rugby’s overall spirit was great for this prep-collegiate genre of clothing we all love. Rugby’s stylists flew the go-to-hell patchwork flag with gusto, and if the models often looked overly serious, the spirit of the clothing was anything but.

Yes it’s a worthwhile endeavor to learn how to dress well, to learn time-tested rules and display one’s mastery of things like jacket fit and tastefully chosen neckties, but clothes should also be fun.

Fun with clothes often comes from juxtaposition of high and low, or dressy and casual. Ivy and prep were codified years ago by prep schoolers and college men possessed with the mischievousness of youth, who had wardrobes containting items for every occasion, and they knew how to have fun by mixing things up. The photo we recently ran of JFK tossing a football wearing grey flannels, cashmere sweater and Converse All-Stars is just this sort of fun I’m talking about.

Or take this passage from Geoffrey Wolff’s “The Final Club”:

Booth’s houndstooth, cut for his father on Savile Row by Huntsman during the Battle of Britain, was pinched at the waist; the boy rescued his presentation from foppery with a black knit tie and faded blue canvas Top-Sider sneakers, spattered by specks of bronze boat-bottom paint.

Fun is wearing a pink buttondown with black tie. Or a jacket and tie but no socks. Or crested slippers to a presidential speech before Congress. Or a Brooks Brothers “fun” shirt. Your social standing and self-confidence are so secure, you can do things that are purposefully “wrong.” Rugby was a big, fashion-industry reminder of this defining attitude of the WASPy approach to dressing.

At Rugby, fun consisted of juxtapositions such as polo coat worn with a ball cap, sweatpants and camp moccasins. Or Chesterfield coat over gray sweatshirt, white athletic socks and loafers. Kind of a fashion version of what old guys on the Upper East Side do when they step out to grab a bagel and the New York Times on a Sunday morning.

Rugby was aimed at a younger customer and its more over-the-top outfits were easy for older trads to mock, but now that it’s gone I think we can safely admit we kind of miss it. And Rugby’s approach to building an outfit can serve as inspiration for all of us to have a little more fun with our clothes, even if it’s just a pair of crazy pants to wear on the golf course or yellow socks to wear with grey flannels and tassel loafers. I think I’ll try taking the Rugby approach for a while when I get dressed each day. Less calculated correctness and more spontaneous fun.

So here’s a sampling of images from the late, great Rugby brand. The outfits may not be coherent or logical, but that’s precisely the point. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

62 Comments on "I Miss Rugby"

  1. Rigby was like Camelot. A beautiful dream that will always be a part of our legend.

  2. Chewco L.P. (Cayman) | March 12, 2017 at 1:36 pm |

    Shot on location at Princeton University: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhDFeK8sEr8

    Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

  3. Ricky Sanchez | March 12, 2017 at 2:01 pm |

    GREAT ARTICLE THANK YOU!

  4. I liked Rugby and bought some of their products. One of the best things about Rugby was they didn’t make maternity clothing for men.

    Their clothes fit men who didn’t have the Third Trimester look that some men’s clothing manufacturers make clothing for. Men who look as if they are pregnant are very unnatural looking (and for some reason, often act offended if you ask them when the baby’s due).

  5. Columbia Grad '12 | March 12, 2017 at 3:50 pm |

    Great article, Christian! I too miss Rugby. It reminds me of my first years in Manhattan when was newly arrived from Florida as a young college graduate. Rugby introduced me to Ivy style, in small part, and the difference in prep-dom in the north versus the south. The brand also led me to become a faithful follower of this site.

    These days I get my fix by shopping Rugby items on Ebay. Thank you for this call for creativity and fun.

    -Clarence Anthony Jr.

  6. The Rugby clothing reminds me of the Polo offerings in the second half of the 1970s without the short jacket lengths and and badges. The women’s outfits are spot on exception the skirts would be “Annie Hall” lengths.

  7. I’ve noted before missing the regimental striped vest and crew neck sweaters Polo once did like the images of the mannequins, second from the left.

  8. “…polo coat worn with a ball cap, sweatpants and camp moccasins.”

    What I wore this morning–to fetch the newspaper at the end of the driveway. None of it Rugby-labeled.

  9. These are great styles, but it points up a sore point I’ve always had with logoed clothing, which is: People should NOT wear “varsity” clothing unless they actually participated in the sport (and if even with that proviso, probably not). Daily I see baseball jackets on people who obviously never played the game. Crossed rowing oars? Fuggedaboudit. A jersey with a number on it? Jeez, how phony can you get!? And even if earned, why would any adult still wear their old letter sweater? Yes, great styles and memories, but it also feeds into a solipsism that is regrettable, and instantly seen through.

  10. Mitchell S. | March 12, 2017 at 4:39 pm |

    Great writing, Mr. C, but I have to disagree with you completely.

    Sure, the photography was cool, the models were eye candy, but the clothes lacked substance. Not every guy is a runway model, so monogrammed clothing on Joe Six Pack just looks silly. Pretentious monograms and elitist club crests appeal to shoppers’ sense of vanity and lust for an ideal fantasy life.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but since we’re both the same age (44) and college educated, isn’t it shallow and unseemly for a middle-aged guy to miss images from what looks a Bruce Weber Abercrombie and Fitch photo shoot?

    I don’t mean to rain on your parade, or criticize someone of your creative stature, but the average shopper is not a blond, 6 foot 2 runway model from Sweden. Most people outside of a supper club at Princeton would look ridiculous in these getups.

    There is a thin line between having fun and being made fun of.

  11. @Michell

    First off, you characterized the entire brand by a very few items that you wouldn’t wear anyway, so they don’t matter. You don’t say a restaurant is bad just because they serve one or two things you don’t like.

    Second, I think you read this a bit too literally. I point out that the outfits are fashion marketing images and not meant to be copied literally. I also said that the overall position and existence of the brand in the marketplace was good for trad/prep clothing as a whole. I think I also say that it’s the spirit of fun and juxtaposition that we should take from Rugby.

    So I don’t personally miss it the way, say, I miss my dead mother.

  12. Personally, I miss the “POLO UNIVERSITY” line much more!

  13. The ultimate question-

    Better to have Rugby die when it did or allow it to live on, risking a slide into “athleisure” or timid Italian-esque sportswear territory?

    I do miss the regiment-striped cardigans and crayola-colored cords, certainly. Kind of nice to have it frozen in suspended-animation, though, too.

  14. I have to agree with Christian. Always keep in mind when you see these fashion shoots, they are shotgunning items at you. They are cramming as much merchandise as possible into these ads.

    Christopher Hosford
    I agree to some extent, but most of these patches will easily come off. On the other hand I’m not giving up my Burberry trench because I failed to fight in the Boer War or the trenches in WWI. Likewise my thirty seven years old Gloverall because I never served in the British Navy.

    On the other hand what self respecting jock on graduation doesn’t cut off his letters and badges, just wear the varsity jacket as a jacket. Of course some just store them for posterity, show off to their kids. 😉

  15. Jim
    DITTO on that. The Polo University blazers were a bargain, decent fabric and detail. I recently moved, in a closet I found three P.U. blazers, one forest green flannel, one navy flannel and one navy worsted. They still fit, think I’ll have them dry cleaned.

  16. Southpaw Grammer | March 12, 2017 at 6:27 pm |

    Immediately after reading this article I went to my local Good Will (I was planning on going before reading this post) and came across 6 really nice pieces in incredible condition, in my size. No crazy logos or branding just a nice few OCbds, a very nice flannel and 2 Shetland sweaters. Must have been donated by the same fella. Rugby synergy

  17. Am I wrong to think Rugby was Ralph trying to steal back some of Hilfiger’s market share?

  18. Yes, the photos paint a pretty fun preppy fantasy. But the clothes themselves were cheaply made and of very, very poor quality. It’s as if they decided to move the Polo factory to a dirty third-world sweatshop and use the cheapest, nastiest-feeling fabric they could find. I worry that so many people here have lost site of the idea that long ago, traditional clothing was made to LAST. Ralph Lauren was at the forefront of destroying that idea.

  19. Disagree with the last. Ralph himself always had very high standards and wanted his clothes to last. There are multiple quotes from him about that, as well as the garments themselves (the best of the best). If I recall he somewhat regrets going public and having to give up autocratic control.

    You should credit corporate America and shareholder and consumers with the willingness to accept low standards of apparel quality, but not Ralph himself.

    That could be why he parted ways with the recent CEO, who had previously helmed Old Navy.

  20. I don’t miss Rugby at all (if I ever knew it in the first place). I always viewed it as so over-the-top & cartoonish as to almost be the zoot suit, or bell-bottoms, of its genre: something taken so far that it mocks the style from which it sprang. And I agree with one commenter above: it appeared to be trying to out-Hilfiger Hilfiger: derivative, without the sly wink to let you know that *it* knows the whole thing is a put-on.

  21. Mitchell S. | March 12, 2017 at 8:36 pm |

    @Christian,

    You are a very, very talented writer with a keen eye for style. However, I feel being a paid, professional writer for RL has caused you to cast a blind eye to any criticisms of RL and the Rugby brand.

    Let’s face it, Rugby was a dog! Overpriced, low quality, pretentious rags made in some Malaysian sweatshop. This was never part of Ralph’s vision of the best: the best fabrics, style, and timeless quality meant to last generations. Polo’s DNA was WASP virtue: threadbare frugality, quality, and timeless elegance. Rugby was the opposite of Ralph’s vision and plan.

    Yes, fun and contrast are essential to dressing well, but you miss my point about irony of Rugby. You write “Your social standing and self-confidence are so secure, you can do things that are purposefully “wrong.” Rugby was a big, fashion-industry reminder of this defining attitude of the WASPy approach to dressing.” The truth is 180 degree reverse of this. Only someone insecure as to his social standing would wear such garish, attention-grabbing apparel to fetch the Sunday Times. Phony club emblems, fake monograms, and super oversize varsity letters are the marks of the parvenu or nouveau riche. Like Jay Gatsby and his white suit, trying too hard to be accepted by society only to be despised by all in the end.

    Any decent WASP will tell you that trying too hard, or looking like you try too hard is anathema to the WASP look. It’s definitely NOT any fun pretending to be someone you’re not.

    I agree that Rugby ads and styling were the best, but it was a false promise. Flimsy, phony, rough (but not rugged) clothes that screamed “wannabee.” It’s not my idea of “fun” and a very awkward juxtaposition between ideal and execution.

    R.I.P. Rugby

  22. Southpaw Grammer | March 12, 2017 at 9:26 pm |

    2 of the ocbds I found today were made in the USA and the flannel was made in Canada. The Shetlands, unfortunately, were made in China but the quality is on par with my Shetlands from Harley and Howlin’.

  23. P Partridge | March 12, 2017 at 9:45 pm |

    Roycru,

    Apparently you prefer it when men wear clothing that is at least two sizes too small.

  24. whiskeydent | March 12, 2017 at 9:52 pm |

    I don’t think CC was necessarily saying he liked the Rugby. Instead, I think he was talking about what the brand inspired in men. That said, I think the stuff is awful, over-the-top costumery for a Felini movie set at Princeton.

  25. The negative comments renew my confidence in the common sense of most readers of this blog.

  26. P. Griffith | March 12, 2017 at 10:26 pm |

    @Cirrus.

    Agreed. We certainly derive satisfaction and pleasure from dressing in a Trad/Ivy manner, but “fun” is not what many of us are after.

  27. Thank you for the article and posting the pictures. I really like seeing pictures like these because they help me learn how to match and coordinate different color combinations.

  28. whiskeydent | March 12, 2017 at 10:44 pm |

    I think it’s perfectly fine to have some fun with clothes — especially with colors and textures. You risk appearing timid and dull, someone who colors with basic hues strictly within the lines. However, this stuff is so silly and cartoonish it loses any nuance. You can’t see the individual places where you might choose to color outside the lines.

  29. Geezer1911 | March 13, 2017 at 9:51 am |

    Careful what you post here sonny! Some of the women in those photos could give an old man like me a heart attack.

  30. Fred Johnson | March 13, 2017 at 9:56 am |

    I was wearing yellow socks with tassel loafers on the 70’s. I never bought Rugby stuff although some of it seemed decent when isolated from the looks in the ads.

  31. I’ve never seen Rugby in person, only on the internet. I can’t speak to it’s quality, but from what I’ve seen I don’t think it’s clownish if taken piece by piece. The law doesn’t require you to buy into a stylist’s taste in an ad.

    There is probably a item in each image above I would buy if the fit and finish were done well. Most badges and elbow patches can be removed.

    Even if you believe Rugby is / was clownish, have seen how most college students dress?

    Once again I agree with Christian. The corporatist not RL control the look. I feel sorry for those too young to remember Polo in the 70s. Everything was made north of the English Channel or in America.

  32. J’adore les belles filles dans les publicités de Rugby.

  33. Back when Rugby was around I bought a few ties there. They were made in Italy, don’t have faux-club crests, and have proven very durable – I still wear them. Can’t comment on the rest of the line.

  34. Mitchell S. takes all of this a bit too seriously. For someone who possesses so much insight into the nuances of WASP life to refer to “supper” clubs at Princeton, it’s clear that he has never set foot on Prospect Avenue.

  35. Too much. The labels and crests smacked of US Polo Association. Take Mies van der Rohe’s advice, “Less is more.” I think BB failed with their overly logoed product as well.

    Will

  36. Why are you just critiquing the logos? Rugby made plenty of grown-up clothes, as the photos show, and packaged them to young people in a cool way.

  37. Be honest, Chens: you miss the #content (and outraged comments) you’d reliably get whenever the latest Rugby lookbook came out. 🙂

    And Rugby shetlands were the biggest sweater bargain on the market.

  38. The coat in the second picture and some of the tweeds look good but on the whole, there is too much going on. I suppose my reaction is similar to the Olympic team uniforms with the large logos.

    The girls in the photos make me long for a time machine for a thirty year reduction. I particularly like the dress, duck boot/Wellington and Tatiana Romanova necklace look. Woof!

    Will

  39. Personally I couldn’t stand the packaged lifestyle marketing of Rugby and largely agree with Mitchell’s comments. Yes, there were many items without logos/crests but were they any better than pre-existing alternatives?

  40. Michael Brady | March 13, 2017 at 12:10 pm |

    My take-away is that we are missing the spirit of the Rugby line in today’s marketplace…particularly from the Polo (or whatever they are calling now) offerings. Its no surprise that RL has stumbled badly in the era of tight fit, too small apparel. They have substituted high prices for innovation.

    I appreciate the nice comments about Polo University, where I made my living for ten years. We had to walk a fine line between looking too much like RL and offering our customers good style and value. Polo U was something that I was pleased to wear and sell. It ultimately proved to be a barometer for an industry in free fall.

  41. There’s not much more to add to the discussion. Put me in the group of being put off with the trying too hard, but I do miss old school Ralph Lauren style and quality. I just didn’t think the Rugby line was it. I will say that the guy with the super huge calves in the cut off chinos and the overblown R sweater looks like a grown man being dressed as a six year old by his big bear of a “daddy”. It may be just over pronounced marketing, but in what trad world would anyone think that’s a good look?

  42. I think everyone is getting a little too hung up on the big logos. Remember, this was 2004ish. Polo was losing its cool factor with college kids. Rugby was its effort to compete with the likes of Abercrombie with that key 18 to 24-yr-old demographic market. As an undergrad/graduate student at the time, I can tell you that we LOVED the big logos and these kinds of clothes. I personally fell for Rugby and its marketing. I know a lot of my peer group did as well.

  43. 24 year old undergrad/graduate students are idiots.

    Just kidding,

    Will

  44. whiskeydent | March 13, 2017 at 12:58 pm |

    @michael brady
    I’d love to hear the opinion of an industry veteran. Many, like me, find the clothing in the photos too loud, but others who say we need to look at the pieces individually have a point. That so many of us had a negative reaction might speak more to the composition of the promo photos than the actual clothes in them. So what is your professional view of the execution here? Did they overdo it? Or was this the result of aiming at a younger audience?

  45. Oh Lord, I had a massive addiction to Rugby during my college years. Yes, the marketing pictures are a little much but trying to remember back through the tequila haze that was my youth much of the aughts would be considered over stylized (at least from a woman’s perspective).

    Despite the fact I’d kill to be able to fit back in my Rugby pieces I’m not sure I’d wear them again. I have a variety of totes, purses, and other accessories from Rugby that get near daily usage and look just as good as the day I bought them.

  46. I remember laughing to myself when I saw some of those logos. They just seemed consistently “off” in subtle ways. In the case of the logos with crossed oars, I guess it’s not so subtle. Do they mean rugby or crew? Oh, I guess the name “Crew” was sort of taken. More subtle is the logo with the red rose. That logo, with its association with the north-west of England, evokes Rugby League more than Rugby Union, and while there’s nothing wrong with wanting to associate oneself with Rugby League, I don’t think it’s quite what they were going for.

  47. Southpaw Grammer | March 13, 2017 at 4:59 pm |

    Clothes can be fun, should be enjoyable and should not be taken so literally. Is the average person on the street going to think that you are trying to hard to be a WASP? Or are they going to look and think “nice shirt”? Unless you are rocking the whole look in the way in which it was styled on the models (which almost no one does) the items are easily incorporated into anyone’s wardrobe on a piece by piece basis.

    Every brand markets itself, dismissing anything wholesale because of the way that the models are styled is cutting ones nose off to spite ones face IMHO. 😊

  48. I look at it like Fred what’s his name that lot’s of folks on here are so critical of. His style is not my cup of tea, but he does have some nice pieces of clothing. 😉

  49. Henry Contestwinner | March 13, 2017 at 11:49 pm |

    Fred is a fop, so of course he has some nice clothes. It’s just that the overall effect is… well, foppish.

    I think some of us would give him a break if his image weren’t so contrived.

  50. “contrived” is a good word to describe what stylist do, some better than others.

  51. I’ve yet to figure out a way to consistently search the Bay for Rugby stuff. Advice welcome – and yes, I miss it, too.

  52. At close to the age of 62, I have a comparison to make regarding the RL Rugby line and today’s pro golfers. Today’s pro golfers are like mobile billboards for golf product companies, like the Rugby line was for RL products.
    The Polo University line, was more like the good old days when pro golfers were sharply dressed and lacked all of the logos and brand names. Any other thoughts on my thoughts here?

  53. Michael Brady said it for me–and likely a good bit more eloquently.

  54. The Loafer Lawyer | March 14, 2017 at 4:40 pm |

    I think my only response is – Whoever decided to pair sweatpants with either a tie or a tweed jacket should be taken out back, held down, and beaten by actual rugby players until sense returns to their skull. (The violence is not actually called for, but you get a sense of my revulsion).

  55. John Carlos | March 14, 2017 at 8:30 pm |

    Jim, at about five years beyond 62, I wholeheartedly agree.

  56. John Carlos | March 14, 2017 at 8:42 pm |

    I think a little bit of logo is ok, i.e. La Coste, Brooks, Polo, but only on the very casual.

  57. I in turn agree wholeheartedly with you as well John Carlos, keep all logos minimal and only on casual items, unless you are being paid to advertise for them!

  58. Seems like some of the reaction is, “They made a large number of items with large logos, therefore I don’t have to listen to what Christian was trying to say.”

  59. Here’s a great interview of Ralph by Charlie Rose. He’s really able to vocalize the romanticism behind his original vision for Polo and it makes so much sense. As for Rugby, it is fun to look at but a bit over-the-top.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=2Fzjmd9IVCE

  60. Is there really a place where sockless young men pile books on the floor next to framed oil paintings, drape untied bow ties over their Shetland crew neck sweaters, and rest one hand on an oriental rug while holding a pair of tortoise shell eyeglasses in the other? I’d like to think so.

  61. @rojo.

    I just laughed out loud in the literal sense.

  62. Chewco L.P. (Offshore) | May 10, 2017 at 3:25 pm |

    Whenever “I Miss Rugby” too, I always rely on the “wayback machine” and cached archives to go back in time:

    https://web.archive.org/web/20110113083752/http://www.rugby.com:80/shop/category.aspx?categoryId=3138719&cp=3138868

    Those jackets were actually very reasonably priced!

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