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What's that loop on the back of your button-down shirt for?

That tiny fabric hook has a history.

Woman wearing blue oxford button-down shirt with locker loop visible. Credit: Gant

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If you own a button-down shirt, there’s a good chance it has a little loop located on the back of it at mid-shoulder blades. Sure, it’s fun to stick your finger in it and twirl that shirt around like a fidget spinner or a pair of keys. But do you know what that loop is actually called? What it’s used for? Did you know that it has military origins (maybe...)?

Here’s everything you need to know about that little shirt loop, commonly known as the locker loop, on your button-down shirt.

What’s a locker loop?

Back of white oxford button-down shirt by Gant, displaying locker loop on back of piece.
Credit: Gant

Locker loops are located in the middle of your shirt's back yoke.

Grab your favorite button-down shirt, turn it around, and look at its yoke or the upper panel of fabric located between each shoulder. In the middle of the yoke, perhaps above a couple of pleats, you’ll likely spot the “locker loop,” a skinny piece of fabric sewn horizontally to form a hook just over an inch wide, sometimes referred to as a “hang loop.” It may sound archaic outside of high school, but the purpose of that loop is to hang your shirt inside of a locker. Self-explanatory, right?

But there’s a good reason why these were invented. Like many menswear items, such as chinos and Ray-Ban aviators, locker loops came from the military. At least, that’s what we think. While there isn’t hard evidence to prove this, many sources claim that east coast sailors and the U.S. Navy were the first to incorporate locker loops into their uniforms. Back then, hangers weren’t as prevalent as they are today, and storage space on ships was (and sometimes still is) notoriously small. To help save room, these loops were added onto the garments of sailors to hang onto pegs or hooks located inside of storage lockers. The loops also help to prevent wrinkles.

Although we don’t know the exact date of when these were introduced to sailors, we have a rough estimate of when they became available to civilians. Sometime in the mid-1950s, clothing company Gant introduced the locker loop to its line of oxford cloth button-downs. Gant, who went on to make an exclusive co-op shirt for Yale University’s store, had manufactured a hit with Ivy League students with its loop.

Locker loops were once a status symbol

Black and white image of Martin Gantmacher and Elliot Gantmacher, brothers and creators of clothing company Gant.
Credit: Gant

Martin and Elliot Gantmacher, the brothers and creators of clothing company Gant.

The 1910s is when we can pinpoint the emergence of preppy fashion, and it’s when Ivy League students first started dressing in a way to display their social status. Throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s, the tiny shirt loops infiltrated Ivy League style by way of Gant’s oxford shirts, and eventually other Ivy-popular brands, like Sero, Wren, Creighton, and Eagle, adopted their own version of the locker loop. Student-athletes utilized their locker loops during sporting events in lieu of using a hanger.

More common, however, was the use of locker loops to publicly show one’s relationship status. Male students would cut off their locker loops to tell others that they were going steady. Women would wear that student’s scarf to reciprocate. If a male student’s locker loop was still intact, a young woman could rip it off to show interest. In some cases, this led to expensive oxford button-downs being torn apart.

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Why are locker loops around today?

Photo of a white oxford button-down shirt made by Gitman Vintage, photo of a blue oxford button-down shirt made by Todd Snyder.
Credit: Gitman Vintage / Todd Snyder

Modern retailers, like Gitman Vintage and Todd Snyder, still include a locker loop on the back of their oxford button-down shirts.

At this point, it’s a fashion vestige—an homage to Ivy League style, or simply an aesthetic flair. Sure, that loop on the back of your shirt can still be used to hang it up on a peg or inside of an actual locker, but we also use more hangers today. That isn’t to say you can’t use the loop—especially if you line dry your clothes and need a way to prevent shirts from drying without shoulder nipples.

If you’re not a fan of locker loops, you can take your shirt to a tailor and have it removed. Conversely, if you have a shirt that you want a locker loop on, your local tailor can take care of that, too. Many retailers who make oxford button-down shirts, like Ralph Lauren, Todd Snyder, J.Crew and Gitman Vintage, still offer styles with locker loops today. But if you so wish, you can still go directly to the inventor and grab some button-downs, and even T-shirts, with branded locker loops them from Gant.

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