One Thing: The Polo Shirt

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Polo shirts are the cornerstone of any classic warm weather wardrobe and have been so for generations. Though when they hear “polo” shirt most people think Polo™ shirt, the first truly branded version was developed in 1929 for tennis legend Rene’ “The Alligator” Lacoste.

Lacoste wanted a comfortable shirt to replace the traditional, but totally impractical dress shirt and tie worn by tennis players at the time. In doing so, he unwittingly produced one of the most versatile warm weather shirts ever. Whether tagged with a little reptile or tiny horseman, the polo shirt belongs in your summer rotation.

I would suggest that the polo shirt is in fact one of the great sartorial innovations of the last few generations. With its unique ability to straddle the elusive line between casual and formal, the classic polo can carry you from the office to the country club with little stress. In today’s corporate casual world, day to day office wear can be a challenge and while I do not suggest that a knit polo shirt is right for every occasion, when paired with a sharp outfit you should be good to go.

Khakis are a traditional choice and usually fine for most situations. Just ensure that you do not pull on the going-to-pick-up-a-can-of-paint pants. Opt for a nice pair of khakis in fine cotton – the ones constructed like dress pants. Keep it less stuffy with clean boat shoes or penny loafers and a woven leather or ribbon belt.

For a more business feel, try a dressy belt with a silver monogrammed buckle, blue blazer and high grade slip-ins from Ben Silver. I’ve even seen a black polo paired with a pinstriped suit; very sharp in a George Clooney sort of way. Be careful with that one, not many men can actually pull it off.

Whatever look you’re trying to achieve, make sure to follow these simple guidelines to always be your best when sporting a polo shirt this summer. First, as always, ensure that the fit is right.

Avoid going too baggy, an annoying sin of the younger set. A trim fit across the shoulders – so the shirt’s shoulder seams actually land on your shoulder – should be your first goal. You don’t want any pulling or bunching, just a natural and comfortable fit.  The body of the shirt should lightly touch yours, but not pull or feel tight.

The sleeve should hit around mid-bicep and be fitted but not constricting. When un-tucked, your shirt should hang no lower than your hips. In no case should it cover your rear like some kind of mini skirt; that never looks good.

Regardless of how well it fits, when in the office, keep your shirt tucked in.

Even when you’re going for a younger look, say with modern jeans and some vintage shoes, a trim fit will keep everything looking fresh. Many designers have come out with slimmer fitting polo shirts, so make sure you try on several brands and see what feels best. And trim does not mean tight – unless you want it tight of course, which is another look altogether.

In my case Ralph Lauren shirts fit very well. The body, arms and length are just right. Still, I pine for a Lacoste polo but the cut is just too way slim for my build. I also have several Brooks Brothers shirts and they fit me well, but not as well as the Polo polos.

One of the best things about these versatile shirts is that they come in almost any color under the sun. Basic white to jet black; solid color or preppy stripe, you can find it.

They also happen to age very well. That really beat up old polo at the bottom of the shirt drawer – the one with the seriously frayed collar? It will look great at the clam bake with some faded khaki shorts and gin & tonic.


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Chris Hogan, an association executive based in Washington, D.C., blogs at OffTheCuffDC.com. A lifelong interest in style and clothing led to sales and management positions at several Ralph Lauren stores and an active wardrobe consulting practice

Comments

  1. Jackson Mathews says:

    I agree that Ralph Lauren & Lacoste are the elite brands offering the ‘polo’ shirt. However, there are similar brands that easily compete with these. Brands such as Burberry, Nautica, or even the new brand Afischl can be put on the same platform. . . Good article though.

  2. Nicola Linza says:

    This is a very good topic, and well written. Although if I may take the liberty to make one slight factual correction, Rene Lacoste was known as “Le Croc,” hence nickname he was given “The Crocodile,” it was not “The Alligator.” Over time the shirt was mistakenly called an “Alligator” shirt due to the logo, but that logo was meant to be a crocodile in light of his nickname. They share similarities, yet are technically different creatures. Nicola

  3. Chris says:

    Nicola – You are absolutely right, my mind must have been elsewhere. Normally, I’d ask our editor to correct such an obvious gaff; however I would rather leave your excellent comment as the correction.

    Jackson – I agree that there are many variations of the polo shirt that are worth noting, including those you mentioned. In this case, mostly for illustrative purposes, I stuck with the major iconic labels.

    Best,
    Chris

  4. Nicola Linza says:

    Chris,
    Thank you. I told the Lacoste story about fifteen years ago, and your article brought it right back to me. I was pleased to read this piece. I feel a review of the polo shirt is a very good topic, and you did a fine job presenting it.
    Regards,
    Nicola

  5. Alex says:

    Everyone wears these clothes nowadays. I was in Niger last summer with some traveling nomads and they had them on. In order to stay unique and stylish nowadays you must have your own tailor. As well as finding new designs like Monte Carlo, a great design house in my home city.