Since we were young boys we’ve worn polo shirts. Striped, solid, capped sleeves, with luxury insignias…or our those of our sporting teams. It’s a year ‘round staple, yet at this time of year it does double duty: under a sport coat, a sweater, a zippy, or a light jacket. Oh, the places your polo will see.
Which got us to thinking. Why is the polo shirt our go-to staple? We dug into a little fact finding and learned…. In 1920, Lewis Lacey, a Canadian born of English parents in Montreal, Quebec in 1887, haberdasher and polo player, began producing a shirt that was embroidered with the logo of a polo player, a design originated at the Hurlingham Polo Club down South American way near Buenos Aires.
The term polo shirt, which previously had referred only to the long-sleeved buttoned-down shirts traditionally used in polo, soon became a universal moniker for the tennis shirt; no later than the 1950s, it was in common usage in the U.S. to describe the shirt most commonly thought of as part of formal tennis attire. Indeed, tennis players often would refer to their shirt as a “polo shirt,” notwithstanding the fact that their sport had used it before polo did.
In 1972, Ralph Lauren, one of our style superheroes included his “polo shirt” as a prominent part of his original line called, you got it, Polo, helping furthering its already widespread popularity. While not specifically geared for use by polo players, Lauren’s shirt imitated what by that time had become the normal attire for polo players. As he desired to exude a certain preppie American aesthetic in his clothes, initially adopting the style of clothiers like Brooks Brothers, J. Press and Savile Row-style English clothing, he prominently included this attire from the “sport of kings” in his line, replete with a logo reminiscent of Lacoste crocodile emblem depicting a polo player and pony. This worked well as a marketing tool for the era, for subsequently, due to the immense popularity of Lauren’s clothing, a majority of English-speaking westerners began to refer to Lacoste’s tennis shirt as a “polo shirt”. Still, “tennis shirt” remains a viable term for all uses of Lacoste’s basic design.
Over the latter half of the 20th century, as standard clothing golf became more casual, the tennis shirt was adopted nearly universally as standard golf attire. Many golf courses and country clubs require players to wear golf shirts as a part of their dress code.
Moreover, producing Lacoste’s “tennis shirt” in various golf cuts has resulted in specific designs of the tennis shirt for golf, resulting in the moniker “golf shirt”. Golf shirts are commonly made out of polyester, cotton and polyester blends, or mercerized cotton. The placket typically holds three or four buttons, and consequently extends lower than the typical polo neckline. The collar is typically fabricated using a stitched double-layer of the same fabric used to make the shirt, in contrast to a polo shirt collar, which is usually one-ply ribbed knit cotton. Golf shirts often have a pocket on the left side, to hold a score pad and pencil, and may not bear a logo there.
No matter how you slice your shot on the tennis court, golf course of sport court, keep in mind the origins of what you’re wearing – it helps when you tell your own story of personal style.