Successfully transitioning from sportswear to casualwear, the polo shirt is truly inescapable. No longer reserved for the tennis court, polo field or golf course the polo shirt has become an everyday menswear essential, combining the smartness of a collar with the casual shape of a t shirt. Whether in thin cotton, wool or even silk, the polo shirt is a versatile and varied style – a menswear piece that has a place in every modern man’s wardrobe.
Whilst the polo shirt gains its name from the equestrian sport, the design actually originated on tennis court. It was French tennis player, Rene Lacoste, who first introduced the style. Known originally at the ‘Lacoste Tennis Shirt,’ the first polo was a reaction to traditional stuffy tennis wear of a shirt and tie. Seeking to find a garment that allowed a greater freedom of movement, Lacoste had to please the establishment whilst creating something that would revolutionise tennis wear. And so, the polo shirt was created – the lightness of a cotton weave, the formal quality of a collar and the freedom of short sleeves. And, after the addition of a crocodile badge, the Lacoste polo shirt was complete.But the polo shirt soon got reinvented by Lacoste’s British counterpart, home grown tennis champion, Fred Perry. Fred Perry’s pin up status as a global sports star ensured his redesign was a success, retaining the simple lines and polo shirt design of Lacoste but adding a stripe around the cuff – as well as the now iconic Fred Perry wreath. It was Perry’s polo that cemented the link between sportswear and fashion, the Fred Perry polo adopted by the mod movement of the 1950s. Now available in a rainbow of colours, the polo shirt was no longer a reserve of the sporting upper class, but instead the uniform of a new Britain.So where did the link to polo emerge from – why is the polo shirt now known by this moniker? Whilst there are early links to polo through the addition of a polo player symbol by Argentine tailor Lewis Lacey, the link between the sport and the shirt was more likely fostered by Ralph Lauren’s ‘Polo’ line, whereby the polo shirt was the central iconic piece. Adding an American preppy twist to the design, the polo shirt was soon an intrinsic part of the US college uniform.
The Lacoste, the Fred Perry and the Ralph Lauren polos all remain popular today. Their simple lines, playful colours and covetable symbols mean they remain an important piece of menswear. Whether you wear the polo with chinos to replicate Lauren’s preppy American look or with skinny jeans and Doc Martens for a Fred Perry inspired mod look, the polo shirt has a place within any menswear style tribe’s wardrobe . With directional designers like Raf Simons (for Fred Perry) consistently redesigning the polo, alongside the popularity of the traditional polo, this collector’s item is going nowhere.