The Polo Shirt: a spring/summer staple in almost every man’s wardrobe. Characterized by a soft pique collar and often 2 or 3 buttons you can typically find a polo shirt absolutely anywhere you go whether it be the pub, a fancy restaurant or even the gym.
But where did the polo shirt come from and why has it continued to be a timeless everyday staple?
The truth is the exact origin of the Polo Shirt is unknown, but its first well-documented debut came in the late 19th century in Manipur, India after British soldiers set up the first club of the sport, polo. As the sport gradually grew, attention was drawn towards the traditional polo kit which consisted of uncomfortable long-sleeved, thick cotton shirts. Dejected by their uniform the players attached collars to the shirts to stop them flapping around while on horseback.
The sport was introduced to England in the early 1860s. But towards the end of the century, John E Brooks, founder of the American Brooks Brothers firm came to England on a buying trip and noticed the button down customization of the collar. Impressed by the style, he took the idea back to America and the Brooks Brothers applied button-down collars to dress shirts.
In 1896 the original button-down polo short was born changing the course of both Men’s and Womenswear forever.
Sometime later in 1926, a young french Tennis player name Jean Rene Lacoste was unhappy with the traditional long sleeve button up ‘Tennis Whites’ and as the sport became more competitive he looked to gain an edge. Using pique cotton Lacoste designed a durable and breathable short-sleeved polo that gained instant popularity over the traditional garb.
Jean Rene was given the nickname “The Crocodile” by a journalist due to his tenacity on the court soon after he began ironing a green crocodile logo on to his polo shirts. Thus creating the first article of clothing to sport a visible brand name.
In 1933 Jean Rene and his manufacturer Andre Gillier created La Société Chemise Lacoste (The Lacoste Shirt Company) and started producing similar shirts to the ones he’d famously worn in 1926. By the 1940s the name ‘Polo Shirt’ was adopted as the official name for the style of shirt and quickly by 1951 Lacoste grew the range into a variety of different colours and expanded into the American market with President Dwight Eisenhower even wearing one for Golf by 1953.
In 1954 another tennis legend named Fred Perry thought he’d have a crack at creating his own version of the Lacoste polo shirt. Fred managed to improve the design with a stitch Laurel Wreath logo as opposed to an ironed on Crocodile. Fred Perry managed to quickly solidify his polo as a direct competitor to Lacoste’s design and together as rivals they managed to make the jump from sport into fashion.
Our next point of interest on the timeline happened in 1972 when designer Ralph Lauren wanted to give a name of sophistication to his new casual wear brand. He decided on the name Polo Ralph Lauren because polo was a sport still related to the wealthy and the royals. Naturally, he included the Polo shirt as a staple piece of his new line further boosting the style of garment’s popularity.
With the arrival of the 1980s, we saw the beginning of the decade of the polo. With Lacoste, Fred Perry and Polo Ralph Lauren all at the forefront battling it out for the first place. This battle is an on-going theme as all brands have made their names synonymous with the style of the Polo Shirt all the way through to 2020.
Now you know the history of the Polo Shirts, now have a look at the new season arrivals from a host of top designer brands
PS Paul Smith Regular Fit Short Sleeve Electric Blue Polo Shirt, Sunspel White Riviera Short Sleeve Polo Shirt, Emporio Armani Geo Print Logo Navy Polo Shirt, Pretty Green Carnation Stone White Polo Shirt, Fred Perry M3600 Black & Bright Yellow Slim Fit Twin Tipped Polo Shirt, BOSS Casual Passenger Navy Polo Shirt, Aquascutum Abner Short Sleeve Beige Collar Large Check Polo Shirt, Polo Ralph Lauren Slim Fit Pima Sky Blue Polo Shirt, Lacoste L1212 Navy Classic Fit Pique Polo Shirt & Belstaff Stannett Classic Orange Polo Shirt.
Words by Jack Strong