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Polo shirts for men: 5 oddly wonderful things to know

If you’re like most people, you’re probably taking polo shirts for granted. It’s understandable - we all grew up with them. But when you step back and really look at the polo, you can’t help but admire the ingenuity of its design. 

Did the world really need a hybrid garment with the relaxed comfort of a tee shirt and the collared formality of a button-down? 

Answer: Hard yes! There’s a reason the polo shirt has become a true classic of smart casual and leisurewear. Whether you’re playing light sports, chilling at a bar, dressing for the office, or just lounging around the house, a well-cut, high-quality polo is your best friend - and an essential addition to your wardrobe.

So if you’re still playing catch-up, here are your top two priorities for the day. First, you should add a world-class polo shirt to your wardrobe. They’re simply an essential tool in your style arsenal. When you start wearing it, you’ll wonder how you ever went without. And second, you should catch up on the charming backstory behind the polo shirt. Here are 5 striking factoids:

1. Polos originated in India

Concrete facts about men’s polo shirts are hard to come by, and their origin is the subject of some dispute. But this much is known for sure: British soldiers stationed in Manipur (a city in northeastern India) in the late 1800s became enamored with the design, and brought it back to the UK. 

Around this same time, outdoor sports like tennis, cricket, and - yes - polo were becoming vogue among the British ruling class. One thing led to another and enduring style trend was born.

2. They really are great for polo...

Today, of course, golf is the athletic activity for which polo shirts are best known. So why do they still bear the polo appellation?

Back in the 19th century, when polo was in its heyday, modern sportswear as we know it didn’t really exist. Athletes would generally wear everyday clothes like slacks and dress shirts, perhaps with slight adjustments, even at the professional level. For polo players in particular, this proved to be an issue. Classic button-down shirts with their unfastened collars would flap and bounce around - a serious nuisance to the wearer. 

The polo shirt, with its fastened-down collar, offered a solution to this perpetual wardrobe malfunction. In other words, polos were functional before they became fashionable. (Sound familiar? We’re looking at you, yoga pants.)

3. ...But it took a tennis star to popularize them

Polo shirts were making their mark among the European upper class in the early 1900s - but it wasn’t until 1926 that they truly exploded in popularity. René Lacoste, the world’s biggest tennis star, was unhappy with standard-issue tennis clothing. The common style for men was to wear tucked-in, long-sleeve buttoned shirts with the sleeves rolled up. But those rolled-up sleeves often unrolled, the shirt tails came untucked, and the whole affair proved a sweaty mess.

Lacoste thus adapted the modern polo shirt to suit his needs. He designed a longer tail to stay tucked, short sleeves to keep his arms free, and he used a light piqué cotton to keep mens undershirt breathable. When Lacoste triumphed in the 1926 US Open Championship, his bold new fashion choice exploded onto the world stage.

4. The crocodile has a secret meaning

So what’s the deal with the embroidered crocodile logo on old-fashioned polo shirts? It turns out that’s another one of Lacoste’s legacies. 

The seven-time Grand Slam tennis champion was known for his aggressive and tenacious style of play. That’s why, soon after he debuted the new polo style at the US Open, he began having a crocodile emblem embroidered onto his shirts. (Some say this was the first athletic logo ever worn!) Thanks to Lacoste, the crocodile image became inextricably linked with the polo style.

5. They’re the epitome of smart casual

With streetwear charging into high fashion and t-shirts and hoodies becoming the new normal for tech startup office-wear, the lines between formal and informal dress are muddier than ever. That can make for stressful decisions if you’re trying to nail a stylish happy medium. 

For example, take date night at a gallery opening. Do you risk looking sloppy in a crew tee, or perhaps show up overdressed in a crisp button-down? This is where a polo shirt can really shine. With a modern polo shirt, clean lines and a Second Skin fit help you strike that perfect middle ground: cool, comfortable, and sharp.