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Origins of the Polo Shirt: The ultimate wardrobe essential
Think Polo Shirt and you think tennis, right? In fact, the origins of the humble Polo go further back than you might think.
The first mass produced version of the polo was in fact created in India in the early 1900s. Although this has no similarity with todays modern shirt, it was created as a lighter, more versatile alternative to the jacket and shirt combination commonly worn at the time when playing the equestrian sport of Polo. This trend was quickly picked up in Europe where they were manufactured from wool and featured long sleeves, and finished with a collar, supposedly to add a level of protection against the elements. The term ‘Polo’ was in fact patented by an American in the late 19th century, where John E Brooks, a tailor, added buttons to the collar and marketed his new creation as ‘the first button-down polo shirt’.
Jean René Lacoste and Piqué fabric
Following a similar theme, the first iteration of the sports polo was born out of a frustration with the inflexibility of the days tennis dress code, which featured flannel trousers and full sleeve shirts. A long way from the breathable, hyper technical garments that athletes wear today. Lacosté wanted to simplify what most would consider casual, rather than sporting, dress today by moving to a shorter sleeve cut from a lighter cotton fabric.
The fabric he chose was a cotton piqué. Piqué, otherwise known as Marcella, is an interwoven fabric which is breathable, durable and easily cared for and has excellent stretch and comfort. This fabric has stood the test of time, and is used for a wide range of sports to this day, from tennis to golf, fitness and rugby.
Lacosté debuted his new, breathable, soft collar polo at the US Open and it immediately caused a stir. Originally designed just for him, it was finished in classic white and featured the now iconic crocodile on the chest. Seeing the business prospects of the polo shirt, Lacosté collaborated with American manufacturer Andre Gillier in the 1930s to refine and commercialise it ready for mass production. Not long after this the polo became the uniform for all competing players and the shirts were flying off the shelves.
Pop Culture and Presidents
The popularity and production of the polo shirt grew steadily and in the 1960s was seized upon by the emerging mod culture on the streets of London, sporting Fred Perry's take of the classic informal shirt. The Americans were big adopters too – all the way across the American East coast, the polo became the go-to garment for style conscious youth. By the late 60s the shirt had been adopted by Hollywood icons such as Steve McQueen, and was even worn by heads of state U.S. Presidents Eisenhower and John F Kennedy.
Today’s contemporary classic
In 1972 Ralph Lifshitz set up his casual wear company. He called it simply, 'Polo'. Embroidered with a polo player in motion, his take on Reni Lacosté's famous design quickly became the mainstay of wardrobes across the world. He introduced a new sense of aspiration into the style, using bold colour and elevating its link to sport from tennis to the high society sport of Polo. He launched his version across 24 signature colours and a single fit. His inspired marketing approach quickly led to the polo shirt becoming a symbol of wealth and aspiration.
The polo shirt is now worn on far more occasions than just sports. It has been gradually diversified away from sport and into casual, everyday wear, across a wide range of styles, colours and forms, and it's this versatility that has led it to become one of the most popular garments in the world. As a blend between the worlds of smart, buttoned down shirt and casual t-shirt it is comfortable, casual and smart all at the same time. In some ways it is a true all-rounder, perfect when paired with shorts, jeans, chinos or even a jacket – and now available in our uniquely tailored athletic fit, cut from soft, breathable piqué fabric with just the right natural stretch. Shop the Hale Clothing Polo Shirt now.