No matter how strong a case fashion magazines might make for it, few closet essentials can be truly called versatile on account of dress code-appropriateness. No matter how many styling ideas you might have come across, you simply cannot wear joggers to a business meeting and you can't show up to work in a pair of DIY denim shorts if you want to be taken seriously. Thankfully, the polo T-shirt still maintains its position of sartorial respectability. From casual Fridays and weekend errands to smart casuals and brunch, this staple never looks out of place. Here's the fascinating journey behind this go-to garment.
The British First Encountered Polo in Manipur, India
While the genealogy of the polo T-shirt still remains dicey, Western civilisation's first encounter with the sport was when British soldiers were stationed in Manipur. Soon the horseback sport caught on with the army men and tea traders. By 1862, polo had reached the UK shores and found its following.
The OG Polo Shirt Had No Collar
Like most other sports gear of the time, the polo kit was impractical. Note that this was a time when propriety trumped functionality, so it was commonplace for men to play polo in full sleeved shirts. When you factor in issues such as wind resistance and subsequent distractions through resultant billowing and flapping fabric, this hindrance to the game could have very well been done without. To reduce this, the players cut out collars from their old shirts and attached it to the polo shirt. This was the inception of the modern-day polo T-shirt.
Polo T-shirts Have Tennis to Thank
Sports wear wasn't a defined segment yet so most sports kits were derived from quotidian clothing. Tennis was one such sport, where button-up shirts with rolled up sleeves were worn with woven trousers and ties. In 1920s, French tennis star Jean Rene Lacoste introduced the now staple "all white" tennis outfit, comprising half-sleeved collared shirts made in pique cotton to allow for functionality and breathability.
Brooks Brothers Made The Button-Down Collar Happen
John Brooks, then President of the menswear brand Brooks Brothers, noticed the collars flapping at a polo match in 1896. He then went back and started producing shirts with buttons on the collar so it could be buttoned down—a key feature of the polo shirt.
Polo Shirt as We Know It Is Ralph's Doing
The modern-day knit polo shirt, which is a staple in every gentleman's closet, takes after Ralph Lauren's iconic design. When the designer launched his line Polo, he used the Lacoste design as a prototype and based his version of the pique knit polo shirt with the iconic polo player emblem after it. Although the polo shirt enjoyed popularity in the late '90s and early '00s, it never truly goes out of style, making it a modern classic.
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