Created in 1926 by tennis player Rene Lacoste as an antidote to the formal shirts which players wore at the time, the tennis shirt, as it was originally known, was only intended to improve his game. But such was the popularity of his design that he began to mass-produce it from 1933 onwards, and a wardrobe classic was born.
There are few items in a gentleman’s wardrobe which are fail-safe, multi-season items, and which can be worn whatever your style. Indigo jeans, perhaps, a white shirt - of course - and the classic cotton polo. The polo shirt can be visited time and time again no matter what your style. From preppy through to sporty, via modish and sartorial, the polo is one of those pieces that just doesn’t date.
The shirt’s key attributes were that it was crafted from cotton pique – a hardwearing but breathable weave that had previously been used for formal white tie waistcoats and bow ties. It also had short sleeves with a narrow cuff, a button placket, a slim collar that could be flipped up to protect the wearer’s neck from the sun, and a ‘tennis tail’ – a longer back that ensured the shirt wouldn’t untuck from the player’s shorts or trousers. The original design was embellished with a crocodile to the left side of the chest – the croc being Lacoste’s nickname on the tennis court.
The cut became affiliated with the game of polo from the 1930s onwards when polo players, like tennis stars, realised the potential of the new garment. The shirt’s name was cemented when Ralph Lauren debuted his ‘Polo’ line in 1972 - a move which also gave the style an association with a preppy, wasp-ish aesthetic which it still has today.