From its origins on the tennis court to its status as a wardrobe staple for the urban man, the polo t-shirt has evolved over the last century and has now become a must-have for stylish men of all ages.
A polo shirt, by definition, has a collar, a placket with two or three buttons, and sometimes a pocket. Also known as a golf shirt and a tennis shirt, the polo shirt has its roots in tennis. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, tennis players wore long-sleeved white button-up shirts whose sleeves had to be rolled up, also known as “tennis whites.” French tennis player René Lacoste found this attire both restrictive and impractical, so he designed a white, short-sleeved cotton shirt, débuting it at the 1926 U.S. Open championship. One year later, he added a crocodile motif on the left breast of these shirts, and thus the first tennis shirt was born.
A few years later, this style of shirt caught the notice of polo players, who used to wear long-sleeved cotton shirts with button-down collars. This attire also proved to be uncomfortable, and when Lacoste began to mass-market his tennis shirt in the 1930s, polo players adopted it for their use as well. Lewis Lacey, an Argentine-Irish polo player, produced a shirt that was embroidered with the logo of a polo player. Ralph Lauren, catching on to the popularity of the style, used a polo shirt as the foundation of his fashion line in 1972. Today, major brands that sell polo shirts are Polo Ralph Lauren, Lacoste, U.S. Polo Assn, Fred Perry, and Calvin Klein.
The polo shirt has certain features which make it both practical and stylish. Upturning the collar protects the neck from the sun. The classic polo is longer in the back than in the front to prevent the shirt from becoming untucked when you bend over. If you are wearing your shirt untucked, make sure your back pocket isn’t covered more than halfway by the length of the polo. Just like the rest of your wardrobe, a polo shirt should fit well: look for a style which is tighter on the arms and tapered through the waist. If the fit isn’t perfect, don’t be afraid to get it tailored.
The polo shirt is extremely versatile in its use. Swap out your regular shirt for a polo for a look that will keep you cool in summer weather but will still allow you to look put-together for events and evenings out. For this more formal style, wear polos with a blazer, suit or nice trousers, and pick a shirt in a luxe fabric such as merino wool or cashmere.
For a smart-casual outfit, you can team your polos with jeans, cotton, linen, or terry and add white trainers instead of the traditional loafer. For outdoor summer events, wear a polo shirt in a light colour with tailored shorts and espadrilles or boat shoes.
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If you are looking for a polo shirt to wear while exercising, opt for shirts made in breathable performance material. For a classic sportsman look, go for an all-white outfit: a white polo with white chinos paired with white trainers. For an off-duty sportsman look, team your polo shirt with a pair of tailored joggers and add a light bomber jacket.
Today, the polo shirt is a fashion classic. It is used as a sports shirt for tennis, polo, and golf, and is also a staple for school and work uniforms and casual wear. This comfortable, practical shirt has become a staple in the modern man’s wardrobe.