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How Performance Polo Shirts Revolutionized Menswear

For decades, well-dressed kids in high school and college have favored the classic polo shirt. They’re also a time-honored standard essential for your summer wardrobe. For fashion-conscious men, though, the polo offers a refined look for fit for many occasions (and you don’t have to be at a country club to wear one well).

Of course, polo shirts aren’t always a fashion choice. Corporate jobs utilize the polo design for their uniforms, and workers like grocery clerks, waiters, and big box store employees sport them daily. So how did polo become so ubiquitous? The answer may surprise you.

What is a polo shirt?

A polo shirt is a short sleeved shirt with a button-down collar (but usually has two to three buttons). The modern mens polo shirt may or may not have a chest pocket. Depending on the wearer, it can be considered corporate or casual wear. This type of t-shirt is also known as a golf shirt, tennis shirt, and also rugby shirt.

It began in India...

The sport of polo, in its early forms, dates back to the 6th century BCE. But it was in Manipur, India, where colonizing British forces first stumbled upon the game in its modern form. From there, it made its way back to England - but not before a crucial change to the uniform. 

The traditional polo uniform was a long sleeve cotton shirt with a collar, but the players were irritated with how often the fabric got into their faces in the middle of a match. To solve the problem for the regular polo player, they would sew buttons on their shirt to keep their collars in place. In 1896, a clothing company cashed in on the idea and sold the first polo shirt with button-down collars. They took the same approach to their entire line of dress shirts, and other clothing designers followed suit. So you can say that it is one of the earliest pieces of athleisure. What is athleisure? It is a form of clothing that can be worn for sports or everyday wear. Just check out the stylish Tommy John athleisure collection here.

In the 1920s, tennis attire was equally impractical. Long-sleeve button-down shirts, itchy flannel pants, and ties were uncomfortable. As tennis became more and more competitive, star players opted for a short sleeve shirt with a long, easy to tuck shirttail with a button collar, and the polo shirt as we know it today was born. These polo shirts were made of woven, breathable white cotton that was comfortable to wear on the court. 

Making a statement

By the 1950s, Polo shirts were offered in a wide variety of colors, and because of their high price tag, they were seen as a status symbol worn by competitive athletes. Donning a polo shirt, even during a friendly pick-up game, was a way of showing you meant business.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that they became a fashionable choice for casual wear. Once every major designer took a stab at marketing their own version of the polo, it became the iconic American fashion staple it is today.  

Polos have become the go-to choice for company uniforms. Unfortunately, many of these company shirts are made with stain-resistant fabrics that are anything but pleasant to wear. Sound familiar? If so, keep reading - the polo shirt has recently been reinvented.

A triumph of versatile style

The polo shirt is a comfortable way to dress up or down, depending on the day, and it can work with any number of combinations. For a sporty look, you can match them with khaki shorts. Wear one with your favorite jeans or slacks for a summer casual look - or in the cooler months, you can go for a layered look with a jacket. Wear a polo under your best blazer, and you have business casual attire perfect for long lunches with a client. The point is because of its flexibility, there is no wrong way how to wear a polo shirt.

Informal yet elegant, the polo perfectly fills the gap between a laid-back t-shirt and the traditional dress shirt. It gives you the flexibility to transition from casual to semi-formal without a pit stop in a changing room. The polo is a truly indispensable part of a well-rounded wardrobe.

Find your favorite polo

At Tommy John, comfort comes first, and we’ve applied our philosophy to craft a collection of polos to inspire your inner fashionista. These aren’t the polos you had to wear for your first summer job - no itchy collars or stiff, sweaty fabric.

Our Go-Anywhere Performance Polo is made from a quick-dry, breathable fabric that can keep you cool on the golf course or at a backyard BBQ. It comes in two snazzy designs to fit any occasion. The stay-tucked polo knows how to stay put as you move throughout the day, and our un-tucked polo is the perfect length when you’re feeling too casual to tuck your shirt in.

Or slip into one of our Second Skin Polos for a shirt you’ll never want to take off. Our sweater-knit polo is designed to be the softest collared shirt you’ve ever worn. And our comfort polos can make casual Friday feel like pajama day, with a long-sleeve cut available for the cooler months.

Every one of our polos is designed with a Stay-Put collar that uses a hidden bungee fastener to keep your collar from popping up throughout the day. And of course, they all come with the Tommy John guarantee - if you don’t love the first one, it’s on us.