Would you be surprised to know that polo shirts are actually “tennis shirts”? The polo shirt actually did not originate from the sport of polo, but rather from the sport of tennis. At one time, tennis players wore button-down shirts, ties and flannel trousers while playing, which obviously presented problems for comfort and ease of movement. In the 1920s the French tennis champion Rene Lacoste decided to do something about that and came up with a loose short-sleeved shirt made of knit pique cotton to wear to the 1926 U.S. Open championship. If his name rings a bell, that’s because he went on to form the now-famous company Chemise Lacoste to market his shirts in the 1930s. The small crocodile embroidered on the left breast of the shirts came from the nickname given to Lacoste by the American press during his championship days.
Once polo players became aware of Lacoste’s comfortable new invention, they quickly adopted it for their own sport. It wasn’t until the 1970s however that Ralph Lauren prominently featured the style as part of his Polo collection, complete with a tiny embroidered polo player on the breast, thereby helping to cement the shirt in the popular mind as a “polo” shirt rather than a “tennis” shirt.
Today polo shirts play an important role in both business and fashion. In the corporate world they are considered dressier than a t-shirt but less formal than a button-down and a tie, making them a good casual compromise for the workplace. In schools that require uniforms, polo shirts are commonly worn instead of button-downs during the warmer months. Workplaces which enforce a dress code often also use polo shirts, perhaps embroidered with the company logo on the breast, since they are both practical and durable and also professional in appearance.
In the fashion world, polo shirts are synonymous with preppy fashion from designers like Lacoste, Ralph Lauren, Izod, and Burberry. Polo shirts are versatile enough to pair with shorts and sandals for a casual day at the park or with slacks for dinner later that night. Polo shirts are popular with both men and women of all ages. Fit is key to making the polo shirt stylish; it should skim the body rather than being skintight or super-baggy. Tucking it in will look more businesslike so if you’re outside the workplace, you might prefer to leave the shirt untucked and unbuttoned for a more casual, stylish vibe.
While a polo shirt in white, black or navy is a classic choice, today you can find polo shirts in a wide range of color options. Try a bright color for a really preppy, trendy touch, especially paired with chinos and a cardigan. This is a great way to embrace summer trends and have fun with your wardrobe while still looking pulled-together and appropriate for work, school or other professional atmospheres.