Do you know how I know that we are nearing the end of winter?
Hint: it’s got nothing to do with groundhogs and shadows.
Let me save you the trouble.
I know that winter is slowly coming to an end because I see major manufacturers and retailers everywhere introducing their spring line of clothing. In fact, if you peruse the websites of some of your favourite retailers you will certainly notice this shift by now, which is great.
Although we technically still have about three weeks of winter left, the new spring line of clothing being offered now by retailers certainly got me thinking about the warmer weather just around the corner.
In fact, it’s in thinking of the upcoming spring season that I was reminded of a classic menswear item that is considered indispensable for the spring and summer seasons. It’s a garment that derives its origins from the sporting world, but has since become a part of a man’s casual and business casual wear options.
Of course, what I’m talking about is the polo shirt.
The history of the polo shirt dates back to the early part of the 20th century. Contrary to its name, the shirt actually draws its origins from the game of tennis and not polo. Prior to the introduction of the polo shirt, tennis players typically wore long-sleeved, white button-up shirts (with the sleeves rolled up) along with white flannel trousers. As you can imagine, these “tennis whites” were less than practical on the court.
It was Rene Lacoste, a seven-time Grand Slam tennis champion, who recognized the impractical nature of the traditional tennis whites and decided to design a shirt more suitable for the game. What he came up with was the first ever polo shirt, which was a white, short-sleeved shirt with an unstarched, flat collar and buttoned placket. The shirt also had a longer “tail” in the back than the front which ensured the shirt would stay tucked in during play. Lacoste also included a crocodile emblem on the left breast of his shirts, an iconic symbol which was a reference to his nickname, “The Crocodile.” The emblem has since become synonymous with the Lacoste brand.
The first polo shirt was worn by its inventor, Rene Lacoste in 1926, and by the 1930’s polo players had adopted it as a part of their uniform as well. Over the intervening decades the popularity of the polo shirt surged and can now be seen literally everywhere. While its initial purpose was designed for sport, it has since been co-opted as a piece of men’s casual wear or even as a part of the typical “business casual” uniform of many North American males.
How to Wear
The polo shirt can be one of the most versatile pieces in your wardrobe. It can literally be worn with anything including shorts, denim jeans, khakis, and even suits! That’s because the polo shirt is neither too formal nor too casual of a garment. The addition of a collar and buttoned placket on the polo keeps it formal enough that it doesn’t look out of place with a suit, while at the same time its short sleeves and un-pressed collar make it casual enough that it can be worn with your shorts, jeans, or even khakis.
When it comes to wearing a polo shirt the key to remember is that it should fit trim through the body and the sleeves should hit you around the mid-bicep. Also, the length of the polo should neither be too short nor too long. If the length of the polo is going past the bottom of your fly, then it is too long. If it can’t even cover your belt or waistband, then it’s too short. Somewhere between these two extremes is a sweet spot and I actually like mine to come down around the top of the fly (covering the waistband). This is because I like to wear my polo shirts untucked. If I were one to tuck in my polos or wear one with a suit, I would opt for one that was a bit longer.
Of note, if you plan on wearing a polo shirt with a suit I recommend that you tuck it in. Ensure that you purchase a polo shirt that has “tennis tails” so that it does not become un-tucked when you move around.
Lastly, whatever you do, don’t do the following:
- Wear a polo over a long sleeved t-shirt
- Pop the collar of your polo (unless you are protecting your neck from the sun while playing tennis)
- Wear a polo with obnoxiously large/conspicuous logos or branding
Although most of us are quite familiar with the design of a standard polo shirt with a 2 or 3 button placket, there are a couple of other variations out there that I have seen that may be worth looking into. For example, I find a polo shirt with a deeper placket (4 or 5 buttons) looks a bit more dressy and appropriate with a suit.
Additionally, you can even find polo shirts without a buttoned placket that can look just as stylish. For example, a polo shirt with a v-neck would be a great upgrade to your standard v-neck t-shirt.
Also, don’t forget about the long-sleeved brother of the polo shirt – the rugby jersey. Again, this is another versatile piece that can be worn during the cooler months with denim jeans, khakis, or even a suit.
Lastly, don’t forget that as a man with a well built physique, casual pieces like polo shirts will be your bread and butter for the warmer months so don’t shy away from them.
The polo shirt is a common item found in many men’s wardrobes. Unfortunately, few men know how to appropriately wear a polo or understand how to maximize its utility.
The most important aspect to wearing a polo shirt is fit. Ensure that the garment is trim through the body and the sleeves hit you around mid-bicep. Once you’ve got the basics of fit down, don’t be afraid to experiment. If you normally only wear polo shirts with shorts, try wearing them with some denim or chinos. If you’re already doing that try throwing on a tailored jacket over top. If you’re got that look dialed in, try wearing a polo shirt with a casual suit. In other words, don’t be afraid to branch out!
I hope this article will give you some fresh ideas on a classic menswear staple that will keeping you looking stylish as we roll into the spring and summer seasons.
Here’s the looking sharp!