On the cover of Milestones, his 1958 studio album, Miles Davis wears a pale‑green Oxford cotton shirt. The Brooks Brothers’-style garment features a button-down collar, but its distinctive placket – the reinforced strip to which the buttons are sewn – finishes at chest level, hence the name coined for it: “popover”, meaning it pops over your head.
Davis dug Brooks Brothers’ preppy style, as did many of his Blue Note cohort, who liked to channel the crisp collegiate look of the late 1950s. It was also adopted by cool musicians in the ’60s, including Mick Jagger, who wore a checked popover during The Rolling Stones’ early years. As with Davis, the effect was classic prep style with a rebellious twist.
Brooks Brothers is just one of many brands reviving the popover this season; its cotton Madras check version (£89), has the classic button-down collar and box pleat, but is indigo-dyed for richer colouration. There are also classic popovers in top-quality fabrics at Timothy Everest, where graduated checks (£150) in mustard or deep blue are an upgrade from standard checks, and striped cotton/linen button-downs (£165) have a vintage feel. A large-scale seersucker version in cream (£130) is particularly sharp-looking.
Textured linen stands in for Oxford cotton at Brunello Cucinelli, appearing in steely blue-grey (£460) with a relaxed collar. Over at Thom Sweeney, meanwhile, there is a fine white cotton/linen number (£235); but it is the version of this shirt with a “grandad” collar (£235) that stands out. Another grandad of note comes from Barena – a label known for premium fabrics – in the form of an unusually bold cotton-twill check (£120). Playing with looser cuts takes the popover into holiday territory, which is where Barena’s signature soft style comes in, as exemplified by its handsome chambray (£125) and quaint blue/white cotton jacquard versions (£115).
A popover in denim like the one the young Bob Dylan often wore offers a smart take on workwear. TWC (aka The Workers Club) is a specialist in this genre and has a slim-fit version (£160) featuring contrast chain-stitching on indigo-dyed cotton chambray. Meanwhile, the utilitarian ethos that APC does so well is encapsulated in a mid-denim shirt (£165), as well as a rich navy corduroy version (£150). Both are designed to be worn untucked, and pair beautifully with cream or stone chinos.
Japanese brand Visvim, which specialises in the unexpected, has a cotton-flannel popover cut from a navy and cream check (£640). A striped version (£365) with large pockets – a sort of tracksuit top/popover hybrid – is an eye-catcher at E Tautz. But the most thorough update of all comes from Sørensen in the form of a “painter polo” (£150), cut from a cotton-piqué with a bib front like a dress shirt. And there’s a dress-shirt take (£490) on the silk popover from Salvatore Ferragamo, a brilliant formal statement for a high-summer dinner party.
Jazz and folk-rock stars weren’t the popover’s only proponents: Gianni Agnelli was photographed wearing one while with Jacqueline Kennedy on the Amalfi coast. There’s more than a touch of such Mediterranean romance about Orlebar Brown’s popovers, inspired by fishermen’s smocks and featuring a shallow placket with no buttons. In washed red and blue striped linens with a choice of short (£155) or long sleeves (£165), these are super-laidback holiday pieces.
A more exotic influence is on display at Helbers, where pale-grey, off-white and rich-blue Egyptian cotton shirts (from £325) are cut longer and squared, referencing traditional Arab tunics. Worn untucked, they work casually on their own or with a tailored jacket and shorts. Such modern descendants of the dishdasha make for easy hot-weather wear, but nonetheless convey a certain smartness (compared with, say, jersey sportswear). Other collections channelling the Middle Eastern reference include MP Massimo Piombo with its ornate embroidery on linen shirts and tailoring, in colours from navy and ecru through to marigold, coral and turquoise (€225). Blood-red linen makes for an amazing shorter popover (€194); another variant, an embroidered linen-cotton blend (€448), comes with a matching vest (€268). There are more sedate seersucker button-down versions (€186) too.
Some brands are playing a longer game. At Connolly, CEO Isabel Ettedgui is championing the “liquette” (£460), a garment with French origins, effectively a long sleeping shirt. It’s multifunctional, beautifully finished with a hidden-button placket and Nehru collar, and has a smart shoulder line and four architectural box pleats. Though designed as carefree day/nightwear, the elegant grey pinstripe version (£480) could hold its own at a chilled dinner party.
And this is the point: whether the Middle Eastern/Mediterranean-inspired version, or the more preppy takes that nod to the jazz and folk lords of the 1950s and ’60s, this summer’s popovers are shirts to throw on with leather sandals, slim chinos or shorts – and an easygoing attitude.