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What are Bowling Shirts?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 23, 2024
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A bowling shirt is a specific style of shirt that is associated with the game of bowling. It is box-cut and short-sleeved with a button-up front, pocket, and has a small lay-flat collar. What distinguishes a bowling shirt from all other box-cut shirts is the use of color. Bowling shirts have distinctive, stark, 2-color block patterns that give them a retro 50's look.

An example of a classic bowling shirt is a white shirt with a contrasting black front panel and collar. The back of the shirt might also be black, with shoulder piping; the shoulders themselves and sleeves, white. Conversely the shirt might have contrasting side and back. Other examples of color schemes include black and red, blue and black, white and red, etc.

Bowling shirts are usually cotton or cotton/poly blends. Classic bowling shirts are never patterned in anything but solids with heavy solid lines or contrasting piping used as an accent. A shirt patterned in paisley, polka dots, plaids or prints, is not a classic bowling shirt, even if the cut is the same.

Contemporary bowling shirts are available with screen-printed backs, similar to the many designs we see on printed tee shirts. Many businesses will also print your custom team logo or design on the back.

The 1950's youth made bowling shirts hip, even outside the lanes, wearing them to malt shops, dance hops, and football games. Today, bowling shirts are still very recognizable and remain a part of our history and pop culture.

Bowling is one of the most popular sports in the world; enjoyed by nearly 100 million people over 6 continents. It's rudimentary beginnings are believed by some to reach all the way back to 3,200 B.C., when a small child in Egypt was buried with a collection of objects that appeared to have been used for a pin sport. The grave was unearthed in the 1930's by British anthropologist Sir Flinders Petrie. Also of note, historian William Pehle traced bowling back to 300 A.D. in Germany, and there is record of variations of the game played throughout history in nearly all parts of the world.

By any measure bowling is ancient and beloved.

The American Bowling Congress formed on 9 September 1895 and is credited with standardizing bowling in the United States and organizing official competition. The Women's Bowling League followed in 1917, just twelve years after bowling saw it's first non-wood ball -- the rubber Evertrue. Brunswick followed in 1914 with their Mineralite ball, and by 1952 automatic pinspotters replaced pinboys in the alleys.

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Discussion Comments
By runner101 — On Oct 08, 2011

I have never owned a bowling shirt, but then again, I only go out bowling once or twice a year. I think there are some really neat and tacky designed ones! I think the tackier the better though. If you don't go big, you might as well go home! I think they should have a fashion show at bowling alley's where everyone comes dressed in their wackiest and tackiest bowling, retro inspired outfits and attire. That sounds like a lot of fun, and maybe a good way to increase profits too!

By Sinbad — On Oct 08, 2011

I love bowling and all, but it is way too expensive these days! I would rather just get a bunch of friend's together at my house to play bowling on the Wii video game system, to save money, time, and injuries. (I have had a friend accidentally drop a bowling ball on my big toe, and let me tell you, bowling shoes are not meant to protect your toes from flying bowling balls...To this day I have a messed up toenail because of that!)

Sometimes there is nothing better than going to a bowling alley and playing a real game of bowling though Especially on nights when it is a mixture of bowling leagues and average people like myself. It is fun to see all the different and creative designs to bowling shirts and bowling shoes. Also it is fun to just watch other people have fun and the different skill levels and different tricks that some people can do.

By KaBoom — On Oct 07, 2011

@strawCake - I think bowling shirts are fun! The crazier looking the better. Whenever my friends and I go bowling, we compete to see who can wear the silliest bowling shirt.

At first we were just limiting ourselves to bowling shirts we could find in stores. Then we started embellishing them ourselves and the real fun began! We've used patches, embroidery, and fabric paint. Who knows what we'll think of next?

By strawCake — On Oct 07, 2011

I don't see bowling shirts around too much, but then again I don't go bowling too often. I know some people must wear them though, because I see different bowling shirts at thrift stores all the time. And never the same ones. So this leads me to believe that someone, somewhere, likes to wear bowling shirts.

I don't personally bother with a bowling shirt if I do go bowling. After all, I'm not part of a league, so I don't really need to! I can't imagine wearing a shirt that looks that silly unless I absolutely had to.

By Speechie — On Oct 06, 2011

My husband has a bowling style shirt that he was given by the company he buys his guitars from (they always call this stuff "swag" - I call it company clothing...)

As it turns out the shirt is a great one for playing music. It has a hip look to it, but it is still super-comfortable for him to play, sing, and move about as much as he needs to.

His embroidered bowling shirt sported a badge over the left breast area, I'm not sure if this is common, but I think it helped the shirt look better and not as generic.

By julies — On Oct 06, 2011

I had never given much thought about where to buy bowling shirts until my husband joined a bowling team. I never realized how many different styles and colors you could get.

His team wore a pretty standard shirt with bright colors that was easy to find. Like anything you get involved with, it is easy to spend a lot of money.

By the time you buy a couple shirts, shoes, a bowling ball, and your fees you already have quite a bit of money invested.

He looks forward to this night every week though, and it gives me the chance to do something I really like to do.

By ZsaZsa56 — On Oct 05, 2011

I am in a bowling league and my team all got custom bowling shirts. Most of us are pipe fitters so we called our team the gutter pipes. We are kind of a rough and tumble group of guys so the name seemed to fit.

The shirts were not as expensive as I would have thought. It was $20 each and each one has a screen printed logo on the back and each of our names. They are pretty cool actually. A lot of other teams have custom shirts but I think ours are the best looking by far. Go Gutter Pipes!

By gravois — On Oct 05, 2011

Its weird, when I was in high school I was really into bowling shirts. It was kind of my look, a bowling shirt (the more ridiculous the better) a pair of jeans and flip flops, or sometimes even bowling shoes. I had a whole closet of bowling shirts that I had picked up at thrift stores and garage sales over the years.

I'm not sure where the instinct came from but I thought this was such a great look back in the day. I was actually kind of well known as the bowling shirt guy. Once I got to college I realized how silly I looked and got some real clothes but for a while there I was really rocking it. I still have one shirt left, a kind of half bowling half Hawaiian shirt that was always my favorite.

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