The story of the polo shirt’s origins begins unsurprisingly with the advent of Polo, the sport. When Polo became popular in England in the 19th century, buttons were attached to the polo players’ shirt collars to stop them from flapping in their faces as they played. This was witnessed by an American retailer, whilst on a business trip in England. On his return, he took the idea with him and the first formal polo shirt was produced and sold.
In the 1920s, the likes of embroidered polo shirts (at Brandawear, Ralph Lauren, etc.) were invented when a men’s shop in Buenos Aires began selling polo shirts with a polo player embroidered on them. The polo shirts to follow were all branded with their own unique logos.
The invention of the modern polo shirt
The invention of the modern polo shirt in the 1920s occurred when a French tennis player, who like the polo players of the 19th century, was driven by the impractical sportswear of the time to create a design of shirt more appropriate for use whilst playing sports. He was fed up with heavy, long-sleeved shirts with the sleeves rolled up.
The steps he took to change the design of the shirt tennis players wore were shortening the sleeves, and getting rid of the starched collar and replacing it with a soft one. The soft collar protected his neck from the sun by being turned upwards. He also changed the fabric of his sports shirt into a more breathable cotton, the design of which he, himself, helped to create.
Other sportsmen observed this change in tennis fashion and the popularity of the polo shirt as the sporting shirt of choice exploded! It was reported in the fashion magazines and even worn by royalty. It was as popular on the golf course, as it was on the tennis courts. The polo shirt line was expanded in a variety of colours and new designers and sportsmen began promoting their own ranges, embossed with their own designs.
The polo shirt moves away from sport
In the 1970s, the idea of the polo shirt becoming an everyday fashion item was introduced to the mainstream public for the first time. The intention was to make the polo shirt accessible for everyone. It was a hit and the polo shirt today is a timeless classic. These days personalised polo shirts and printed polo shirts are provided as office and school wear in many places across the globe. For clubs with relatively few members, the option to design your own polo shirt is invaluable. It means club-members can display their own sense of identity at a low cost.
The polo shirt is now an acceptable as casual clothing. It is comfortable and practical without being scruffy. The idea advocated in the 1970s was that the polo shirt is such a versatile and useful item of clothing, every man should have one in his wardrobe. This idea has proved to be one of the big fashion success stories.