Only a handful of garments deserve the recognition of being a fashion classic and one of them is the polo shirt. This short-sleeved garment is a wardrobe essential that combines both style and comfortability, making it the perfect garment for casual and informal occasions. If you love wearing stylish polo shirts, then you have probably wondered how they came to be. This article will detail the entire history of polo shirts and how it became the modern style staple we know of today.
The origins of the polo shirt can be traced back to Manipur, India in the early 1800’s. Traditionally, the uniforms made for polo matches were long-sleeved cotton shirts. The problem was that the collar flapped uncontrollably during games, which prompted players to attach buttons to hold them in place. The growing popularity of polo saw its introduction to England in the year 1862.
At the end of the 18th century, John E. Brooks (grandson of the founders of Brooks Brothers, the oldest men’s clothing line in the U.S.) came to visit England. He attended a polo game and noticed that the player’s uniforms have buttons on their collars to prevent them from flapping. He was impressed with the idea and decided to use it for the dress shirts Brooks Brothers was manufacturing. The result is the classic button-down shirt that they introduced in 1896.
It was in 1920 when Lewis Lacey, an Argentine-Irish polo player and haberdasher, opened a clothing shop in Buenos Aires where he sold polo shorts that featured an embroidery of a polo player. French tennis legend Jean Rene Lacoste had played an important role in the development of the polo shirt as he found that the tennis shirts worn at the time were highly uncomfortable.
Unsatisfied with how the tennis shirts were designed, Lacoste sought an alternative that fits within the competitive nature of tennis matches. He designed a short-sleeved shirt that came with an unstarched collar and a longer back end (known as tennis tail) to allow the shirt to be tucked easily. Lacoste wore this newly designed shirt and made a statement by winning the 1926 U.S. Open Championship.
From there, other tennis players took notice and started replacing their old tennis shirts with the Lacoste tennis shirt.
In 1993, Lacoste co-founded La Société Chemise Lacoste (The Lacoste Shirt Company) along with his friend Andre Gillier, a renowned knitwear manufacturer. The company made similar shirts that Lacoste wore in 1926 and became an instant sportswear classic by the late 1940’s. This is where the garment was associated with the term ‘polo shirt’ that not only polo and tennis players wore, but everyone who had collared shirts made out of pique woven cotton.
As the polo shirt became more popular, Lacoste decided to sell the garment to America, which further fueled the shirt’s identity. He marketed the polo shirt in 1951 as “the status symbol of the competent sportsman”. It wasn’t long before prominent names began wearing the shirt, with former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower wearing the classic polo shirt while playing golf.
Fred Perry, a three-time Wimbledon champion, took the brilliant idea of the polo shirt and made his own version of the garment. He used the same pique cotton fabric for the shirt and improved on the design by stitching a log into the fabric rather than being ironed. Perry’s popularity along with the appealing aesthetics helped skyrocket his brand and was adopted by generations of British subcultures after its inception.
At this point, the polo shirt has established itself as a classic in the garment world. The next few decades gave the garment a more sophisticated and timeless look thanks to Ralph Lauren, a renowned American fashion designer. His new casual wear company brought even more attention to the polo shirt by including it in his Polo line of shirts, which embodied the lifestyle of polo players.
The 80’s became the polo shirt’s iconic decade as Lacoste and Ralph Lauren battled it out, with the former ensuing the victory thanks to Lacoste’s superior branding. In 1990, the polo shirt was introduced as an informal work attire in the corporate world. From there, it began spreading to other industries like sportswear where companies added their brand names and logos.
To this day, the essence of the polo shirt remains the same. A comfortable, breathable garment that screams sophistication all throughout. It’s often considered an essential item in a man’s sartorial arsenal, making it a true style staple.
This brief history of how polo shirts came to be is what enabled the garment to transform into an undisputed fashion phenomenon. Whether it be for casual Fridays or just a leisurely trip under the sun, polo shirts come in a range of colours and designs that will complement your style perfectly.