From an array of colorful fashion statements to frat boy staples, and back-to-school uniforms, the polo shirt has been possibly the most influential aspect of the sport.
Everyone from James Bond to Steve Mcqueen, and even the “Wolf of Wall Street” have sported the shirts. But contrary to expectations, the polo shirt and the sport of polo actually do not have much in common.
The polo shirt was actually developed for tennis as a more comfortable option. And polo, being clever and cheeky, borrowed the attire for its own purposes.
What did polo players wear before the polo shirt?
Originally, there was no set polo uniform for the sport of polo. But players did wear numbers on their backs, identifying their position on the field. Men wore trousers and a typical white button-down shirt as a top to participate in matches. In fact, most sports demanded a white button-down shirt or a proper gentleman’s shirt.
However, as those don’t allow for much movement or athleticism, they were surely not comfortable. In fact, men in Great Britain would even sew on an extra button to each collar to keep it from flapping about during a match.
Who started developing polo shirts first?
Brooks Brothers, which is the oldest men’s clothier in the United States.
When John E. Brooks, son of John Brooks, was visiting England he spotted the affixed button-down collared-shirts that polo players wore and brought them over to adapt stateside. He hailed it the first button-down polo shirt which made a debut in 1896.
Which sport were polo shirt originally used for?
Tennis players, just like polo players, had always worn long-sleeved button-up shirts, but in their case with the sleeves rolled up. The attire was incredibly uncomfortable as the sleeves would roll down, quite inconvenient for a sport with a racquet.
René Lacoste, a French seven-time Grand Slam tennis player, was most annoyed with his sportswear. He designed the first white, short-sleeved, loosely-knit piqué cotton shirt with a collar and a buttoned placket as a result of his frustration. He first wore the shirt in the 1926 U.S. Open where he took home a gold medal in the Men’s Singles category.
It wasn’t until 1933 when the tennis-player retired that he teamed up with a clothing merchandiser to form the brand Chemise Lacoste with the embroidered logo on the left breast. In 1951, the merchandiser struck a deal with U.S. garment brand Izod to bring his polo shirts stateside.
How did the polo shirt make it to polo?
The renewed polo shirt really entered into the market thanks to Lew Lacey, a Canadian-born English polo player. He produced the shirt with an emblem of the polo player at the Hurlingham Club near Buenos Aires, Asociación Civil Hurlingham Club.
However, the actual introduction of the polo shirt and white trousers to the sport was a more recent addition, around mid-century.
But, not surprisingly, no one would ever receive as much credit for the polo shirt as Ralph Lauren, who named his label after the sport: Polo Ralph Lauren. You can read more about the history of Polo Ralph Lauren in our recent article here.
Thanks to Ralph Lauren, not only did polo shirts stand for the sport, but also a certain affluence and status. Successful men and women would wear shirts on television and magazine covers.
Aspiring to the same lifestyle, it became a staple for a wide range of wardrobes. Even rappers in the ‘80s and ‘90s took the polo shirts and made them their own. This made polo shirts a staple of hip-hop culture too, bringing the one percent to the streets.
High-end fashion brands would continue incorporating polo shirts in their shows, from Marc Jacobs’s favorite preppy style to Marni and Maison Margiela.
The fashion industry would even see entirely new brands like Rowing Blazers join the market.
The Future of Polo Shirts
It’s hard to say what the future will hold for the polo shirt, but at least for now, it’s here to stay.
So, now that you know the history of polo shirts, the only question is, which style are you going to be sporting this summer?