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The History of The Polo Shirt
Polo shirts have become a staple in so many of our wardrobes, but you might not have considered how this style of t-shirt came into existence and why it’s called a polo shirt. This particular item of clothing has an interesting history that dates back as far as the 1800s and is just as versatile and popular today.
It’s believed that its style was created in the late 19th century in Manipur, India. To avoid wearing uncomfortable shirts with long-sleeved shirts while they were playing, polo players attached buttons to them to avoid them flapping around in the air while they were galloping along the fields. John E. Brooks noticed this idea and created the button-down shirt in 1896, which changed the face of menswear forever.
Argentine-Irish haberdasher and polo player Lewis Lacey opened a men’s shop in Buenos Aires and began selling polo shirts embroidered with the image of a polo player. However, it was French tennis legend Jean Rene Lacoste who gets the credit for the modern polo shirt, when he wore the new style to the US open championship in 1926, where other sportsmen took note of the style and began to replace their more traditional outfits.
In 1933, Lacoste co-founded La Société Chemise Lacoste (The Lacoste Shirt Company) with his friend Andre Gillier, making a similar version of the iconic style Lacoste wore in 1926. By the 1940s, the term polo was used to describe soft collared shirts.
In 1951, Lacoste expanded the tennis whites to include different colours. It was marketed as the ‘status symbol of the competent sportsman’ and was sold in high-end stores on Madison Avenue. In 1954, Fred Perry created his own version of the Lacoste creation using the same cotton pique fabric but improving the design by adding a stitched logo. But it wasn’t until New Yorker Ralph Lauren rose to fame that the polo shirt really came into being.
The next significant date for the polo shirt came in 1972 when Ralph Lauren gave his casual wear company a new name to signify sophistication and timelessness. He chose to brand his new line the Polo line – it was during this time that the shirt became an iconic symbol that served as the embodiment of the Polo lifestyle.
From the ‘90s onwards, the polo shirt became part of the informal uniform for so many industries. It’s now commonly used for different companies who replace the logo with their own branding, while still benefitting from the comfort and durability of this style.