Polo Shirt

views updated May 18 2018

Polo Shirt

Apolo shirt is a knitted, short-sleeved pullover shirt with a buttoned placket, a small opening at the neckline, and attached collar. Polo shirts were first knit from wool jersey but soon were knit with cotton and other soft materials. The first polo shirts were part of the uniforms worn by polo players on teams in England and the United States starting at the beginning of the nineteenth century. (Polo is a game in which two teams on horseback use long-handled mallets to drive a ball into the opposing team's goal.) By the late 1920s polo shirts became the preferred shirts of golfers, tennis players, and men sailing yachts who discovered their comfort and the ease of movement they allowed. Tennis player Jean René Lacoste (19041996) even started selling his own brand of polo shirt with a crocodile logo embroidered on the chest in honor of his nickname, "Crocodile." As sports increased in popularity into the 1930s, polo shirts became fashionable shirts for men watching sports or just lounging around. No matter the sport or casual affair to which men chose to wear these sporty shirts, the shirts have always been called polo shirts.

Very rich men made the polo shirt fashionable. At the depths of the economical turmoil of the Great Depression (192941) new, fashionable clothes were only available to the wealthy. Fashion magazines filled their pages with descriptions and pictures of the outfits worn at fancy vacation spots such as the French Riviera or Palm Beach, Florida. By the mid-1930s the polo shirt was among the most popular leisure shirts for men. Esquire magazine reported that navy blue polo shirts had reached the "status of a uniform" on golf courses in 1934, according to O.E. Schoeffler and William Gale in their book Esquire's Encyclopedia of 20th Century Men's Fashions. Commonly made of a plain knit material, polo shirts with a herringbone pattern were also favored. The style developed to include versions with buttons down the entire front and some with no buttons, only a V-neck opening at the collar.

When World War II began in 1939 knitted shirts temporarily dropped out of favor and they were hardly seen until the end of the war in 1945. After the war, polo shirts returned to fashion. The most enduring fashion trend polo shirts ushered in was an acceptance of shirts worn without neckwear, which has lasted to the present day.


Dorner, Jane. Fashion in the Forties and Fifties. London, England: Ian Allan Ltd., 1973.

Dorner, Jane. Fashion in the Twenties and Thirties. London, England: Ian Allan Ltd., 1973.

Schoeffler, O. E., and William Gale. Esquire's Encyclopedia of 20th Century Men's Fashions. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1973.

Polo Shirt

views updated May 23 2018


The polo shirt is a short-sleeved, open-necked white wool jersey pullover with turned-down collar, first worn by polo players from the United States and England. It is one of the first pieces of men's bona fide sports apparel to filter into mainstream fashion at all levels of the market.

Like most sportswear, the polo shirt was functional in origin, designed to allow players greater freedom of movement on the polo pitch. Originally (that is, around 1900), the polo shirt was usually made from cashmere or, sometimes, from a mix of silk and wool; the cloth was designed to be close knit and absorbent. Although it was designed specifically for the rigors of polo, during the late 1920s the polo shirt was given a stamp of approval by the fashionable. It could be seen on the French Riviera as well as on the influential Palm Beach set, many of whom were wearing them on the tennis courts.

By the 1930s the all-white polo shirt had become a classic, and brightly colored polo shirts had become very popular as golf wear. It was not until 1933, however, that tennis star Rene Lacoste adapted and redesigned the classic polo shirt specially to be worn for playing golf and tennis. He is understood to have said at the time: "Pour moi, pour jouer au tennis comme au golf, j'eus un jour l'idee de creer une chemise." (For myself, I had an idea one day to create a shirt for playing tennis as well as golf.) (Keers, p. 316). Lacoste's white cotton pique shirt featured a green crocodile logo, both on account of his nickname, "Le Crocodile," on the tennis court, and also as a trademark to help prevent imitations.

By 1935 the polo shirt was as popular off the sports fields as it was on them. A journalist sent to the Riviera pointed out: "Polo shirts have resulted in the oneness of the sexes and the equality of classes. Ties are gone. Personal touches, out. Individualism, abolished. Personality, extinct. The Riviera has produced a communism that would be the envy of the U.S.S.R." (Schoeffler, p. 578).

This popularity endured, and the polo shirt became a cult shirt later taken on as a style essential by label-conscious football terrace casuals and customized by B-boys and Fly-girls during the late 1970s and 1980s, and often worn with Lyle and Scott or Pringle Knits. Meanwhile a version by Fred Perry was the polo shirt of choice by skinheads in the 1970s, the gay crowd during the 1980s, and more recently certain exponents of Britpop and skate (as freedom of movement is still key).

Although Lacoste was there first, Ralph Lauren has built an empire in part on his version of the polo shirt. The pique shirt with the iconic polo player logo was the shirt for the status-conscious consumer to own during the 1980s. Aimed at a more exclusive segment of the market, the Polo, was cut longer and narrower than the French version and continued as a cult classic among the more affluent, the label-conscious, and vintage experts alike.

See alsoJersey; Sport Shirt; Sportswear; T-Shirt .


Amies, Hardy. A, B, C of Men's Fashion. London: Cahill and Company, Ltd., 1964.

Byrde, Penelope. The Male Image: Men's Fashion in England 1300–1970. London: B.T. Batsford, Ltd., 1979.

Chenoune, Farid. A History of Men's Fashion. Paris: Flammarion, 1993.

De Marley, Diana. Fashion for Men: An Illustrated History. London: B.T. Batsford, Ltd., 1985.

Keers, Paul. A Gentleman's Wardrobe. London: Weidenfield and Nicolson, 1987.

Schoeffler, O. E., and William Gale. Esquire's Encyclopedia of 20th Century Fashions. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1973.

Tom Greatrex

polo shirt

views updated Jun 11 2018

po·lo shirt • n. a casual short-sleeved cotton shirt with a collar and several buttons at the neck.See also golf shirt.