What’s the deal with that odd loop on the back of a button-down shirt?
The loop, seen on many dress shirts for both men & women, is a small piece of fabric typically between the shoulder blades, where the upper back of the shirt meets the pleat. While it’s great for annoying someone when you tug on it, it initially had a much more practical function. The loops first became popular among sailors in the Navy, who usually didn’t have much closet space available for their uniforms. So, to make putting away & drying their shirts easier, the loops were included so they could be hung from a hook.
The loops wouldn’t remain exclusive to the Navy for long. In the 1960s, the clothing manufacturer GANT added the “locker loop” to their dress shirts so that customers, who were often Ivy League college students, could hang the shirts in their lockers without getting them wrinkled. The locker loop, however, was originally found on the back of the collar. Later, students repurposed the loops to show their relationship status: if a guy’s loop was missing, that meant he was dating someone (while ladies implemented their own garment-related signal, too, by wearing their boyfriend’s scarf to show they were taken).
Especially enthusiastic romantic partners would often rip the loop off spontaneously, which became something of a trend in the ‘60s. At the time, women who had crushes wearing Moss brand shirts complained that their loops were so strong & secure that they couldn’t tear it off.
For folks who wanted to have a loop without ruining a shirt, there was even one particular mail-order company that would send just the loops to folks in the mail.
You’ll still find those loops on dress shirts nowadays, however they don’t seem to have any social significance. So, if you happen to see one that’s torn, it’s probably just due to wear, not someone’s relationship status.
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