The evolution of polo shirts over the years

Romy Townend

Polo | Spotlight

Polo Shirt: A Cut Above The Rest

Everything you need to know about the polo shirt, how it got tweaked and twisted over time …

The evolution of polo as sports is much talked about, but many do not know about the origin of the modern polo shirt. After the British rediscovered the sport and introduced it to the West, it became a game of the elite. Naturally it called for a dress code and button-down shirts with long sleeves and Jodhpur breeches were the accepted norm. But polo requires a lot of agility, and the long flapping collars were quite a hindrance to performance. So, for the sake of functionality, button-down collars were introduced. John E Brooks, grandson of the founder of the US firm Brook Brothers, who was visiting England in the 19th century, found this quite fascinating. They took it back with them and introduced the iconic “Original Polo” shirts made from Oxford cloth.

The modern polo shirt

The contribution of polo to the modern polo shirt as we know it today ended in that button-down collars. The modern makeover must be credited to the French tennis player Rene Lacoste, who was a seven-time Grand Slam champion. Lacoste felt that white long sleeved dress shirts were impractical for tennis which again was a game for the high society at that time. He felt the need for a sartorial revolution and designed a shirt that was short sleeved and made of pique cotton. The breathability of this new fabric made it comfortable and durable. There was also a “tennis tail” so that the shirt would be tucked in without hassle during the match. An interesting fact is that he was nicknamed as crocodile and he took that with a pinch of salt, including an embroidered crocodile log on these polo shirts. Thanks to the fact that he was the reigning world number one then, his choice soon garnered support amongst other players who not only followed suit but also realised the practicality of it. The rest, as they say, is history.

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Debut into popular fashion

In 1952, President Dwight Eisenhower stamped his approval of polo shirts when he wore a Lacoste polo shirt on the golf course. Soon the polo shirt was roped into other sports too like golf, particularly re-entered in polo. But Lacoste saw the larger potentiality of the soft collared polo shirts and along with his friend and knitwear manufacturer Andre Gillier co-founded La Société Chemise Lacoste (The Lacoste Shirt Company) in 1933. Its sweeping popularity prompted Lacoste to sell them in colours other than just the tennis white.

evolution-of-polo-t-shirts-la-polo The Mike Wise Show

But if there’s one name that transformed the face of men’s smart casual wears that would be Ralph Lauren with his signature polo line in men’s wear. Polo Ralph Lauren lent sophistication to the attire. The polo shirt is one of the most versatile wardrobe choice for the simple fact that you can pair it with anything from ripped denims to formal pants to even sweats. From Elvis ‘The King’ Presley to Brad Pitt – all have worn this and with aplomb. Even the suave James Bond occasionally abandons his ubiquitous tuxedo for a comfy polo shirt. And, of course there’s Paul Newman in the traditional Ivy League uniform of a polo shirt, sport-coat, and chinos. But the fashion police has framed an elaborate manual of how to wear a polo shirt, which includes not layering it, wearing it snug but not tight, and definitely not pairing it with a blazer. However, you are permitted to tuck it in, which immediately elevates the look into a more formal one.

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The polo shirt is as much in vogue today as it was a couple of decades back, making it a classic wardrobe staple. Its timelessness makes it adaptable to both casual and work wear.

polo-tshirts-la-polo. The Coolist