Much has changed since we first emerged nearly 70 years ago in New Haven, Connecticut. What was once a family-run shop is now a global, best-selling brand. Although style has undoubtedly transformed and evolved throughout the years, the GANT shirt still remains our heart and soul. First worn by English polo players in the late 1940s, the white button-down shirt was the essential item in the wardrobe of a well-dressed man.
In America, it began life as a Brooks Brothers creation, dating from the 1920s, but GANT played a major role in its evolution, making it our own.
To understand the iconic item that started it all, here’s a chronological look at the GANT shirt throughout the years.
The Man That Started It All
A Ukrainian immigrant named Bernard Gantmacher arrives in New York. To finance his studies at Columbia University, he finds work in a factory sewing shirt collars, abandoning his lans to become a pharmacist.
From Brooklyn to New Haven
Gantmacher and his business partner, Morris Shapiro, move their Brooklyn-based shirt contracting business to New Haven, Connecticut.
War time years
The material needs of World War II put the squeeze on shirtmakers, Gantmacher and Shapiro included. High-quality fabrics are hard to come by.
Rise of American Sportswear
Young servicemen return to civilian life, ushering in a bold new era for menswear. T-shirts, chinos, and softer, more casual shirts are among its staples. American sportswear is now born.
The GANT Brand is Born
Responding to the evolving menswear market, Gantmacher and his two sons, Marty and Elliot, decide to part ways with Shapiro. They give up their contracts with titans like J. Press and Brooks Brothers and start their own brand: GANT. A few years later, the sons even change their family name to Gant. The mission: to make high-quality shirts available to the masses. Solid and striped button-downs are the brand’s sole products.
The “Ivy League Look”
Life magazine declares New Haven the home of the “Ivy League Look.” GANT shirts, made recognizable by their discrete diamond logo, are by this time the hottest item at Yale’s renowned Co-Op store.
Introducing The Locker Loop
Another defining shirt feature that GANT made established is the “locker loop,” designed for easy hanging. It is located on the back pleat, another trademark detail perfectly suited to this era of sporty, casually dapper menswear. Struggling to keep items in stock, GANT upgrades to a new, bigger factory in New Haven.
GANT’s signature shirt continues to distinguish itself in the marketplace. A GANT ad from this year reads: “Take a collar with a gracefully flattering arched flare...add a button at the back and a comfortable back pleat...find a common denominator in proud fabrics from the finest American and foreign looms...and you have the GANT Button-Down. Wherever college men dress with distinction...wherever success-assured young executives foregather...there you will find this versatile favorite by New England’s finest shirtmaker.”
The Debut of the Button-Tab Collar
GANT wins an award from Esquire magazine for its button-tab collar, an invention patented by Elliot Gant.
Slim Is In
Shirts slim down. GANT’s offerings now include a tapered shirt called the “Hugger.”
The Change of a Name
Having now changed its name from GANT of New Haven to the more international-sounding GANT Shirtmakers, the company is acquired by the consumer goods conglomerate Consolidated Foods.
A Royal Affair
Edward, the Duke of Windsor, becomes a GANT customer. Naturally, he requires custom shirting, and GANT pauses the production line to accommodate the royal fashion icon.
The End of an Era
Marty Gant leaves the company. Until his death in 1998, he will devote himself to sailing and civic causes.
Launch of GANT Rugger
With sportswear a bigger force than ever in the American marketplace, GANT launches its iconic “Rugger” shirt. This rugby-inspired item, recognized by its colorful, broad stripes, helps to redefine the brand for years to come.
Catering To Women
GANT launches a women’s sportswear line and also starts making sporting shirts for boys.
A European Touch
A trio of Swedes acquires the licensing rights for GANT, first in Sweden and then Norway, Finland and Denmark. Pyramid Sportswear goes on to acquire all licensing rights for Europe. Later, the first GANT store opens in central Stockholm, and a few years later Phillips Van Heusen acquires GANT and a minority stake in Pyramid, setting the stage for it to become the international brand it is today.
Showing at New York Fashion Week for the first time, GANT features supermodel Christie Brinkley. Later that year, the brand opens a flagship store on Fifth Avenue
Pyramid Sportswear Takeover
In the brand’s 50th anniversary year, Pyramid acquires the worldwide rights for GANT.
Making a major move beyond menswear, the company launches GANT Woman and GANT Home, a collection largely comprised of textile products.
The Kennedy Connection
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wears the iconic GANT shirt and serves as the face of GANT’s most extensive marketing campaign to date, re-establishing its American East Coast persona.
GANT is acquired by the Swiss holding company Maus Frères.
A New Design Collaboration
An updated GANT Rugger launches. Designer Michael Bastian adds a dash of self-aware attitude to the heritage look.
Paying Homage To An Icon
In a return to its roots, GANT releases a Yale Co-Op shirt. The first point of sale? The brand’s recently opened store in New Haven, Connecticut.
House of GANT Debut
The restructured brand’s spring/summer collection hits shelves with new sub-brands to promote its American sportswear heritage with a European touch. The House of GANT includes the active and leisure-inspired GANT, the sophisticated and travel-friendly GANT Diamond G, and the laissez-faire elegance of GANT Rugger.