The History of the Polo Shirts

The polo shirt does not have one distinct origin. Rather, a culmination of events and innovations led to what we know today as the “polo shirt.” As you might guess, the polo shirt is derived from the sport of the same name. In the late 1800s, polo players wore shirts with buttoned down collars to keep them from flapping in the wind. This innovation was adapted by John E. Brooks and was sold commercially through his company, Brooks Brothers. However, the shirts worn by polo players and distributed by Brooks Brothers do not represent the current version of the polo shirt. Their polo shirts were long sleeved and made with heavy fabric, which led to discomfort by polo players on the field. It was these problems which led to its revision a few decades later.

Interestingly enough, the modern version of the Polo shirt was not created by a high profile designer, but by a famous French tennis player named René Lacoste in the late 1920s. Lacoste decided to change many aspects about the traditional shirt. First, Lacoste decided to cut the long sleeves off the shirt in order to make it more comfortable for playing in the heat. Additionally, Lacoste changed the fabric of the shirt from thick cotton to loosely knit cotton, which is known today as piqué. Because of the success of Lacoste’s innovation, he decided to start his own company with André Guiller in 1933, which he appropriately named after himself. Although the Lacoste brand is synonymous with its polo shirt bearing the crocodile, there is a reason we do not call them “tennis shirts.” 

Since its modern inception in the 1930s, the polo shirt had become increasingly popular among athletes, and even started to become popular with ordinary people. However, it wasn’t until 1971 that the polo shirt really took off for the average consumer. In that year, Ralph Lauren introduced the polo shirt as a prominent piece in his popular clothing line, Polo. This led to the automatic association of the word “polo” to refer to the shirt, which did not have a universal name at the time. By this time, the polo shirt was standard uniform for many sports, including tennis, golf, and rugby.

Through Ralph Lauren’s introduction of the polo shirt to mainstream American culture, it became a popular clothing item for many occasions. The polo shirt has been adapted from a shirt which provides comfort to athletes to a product with many different styles and functions. With so many functions, the polo shirt has become an easy item for many companies to duplicate. While original facilitators of the polo shirt, such as Brooks Brothers, Lacoste, and Ralph Lauren, continue to make polo shirts, they can be found at virtually every clothing store. Overall, the polo shirt has evolved from an exclusive shirt worn by rugby and tennis players to a universal article of clothing found in almost every closet.

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