A Short History of the Polo Shirt
Did you know that the first ever polo shirt was designed for tennis not polo?
The first ever polo shirt was actually designed for tennis by René Lacoste. Finding “tennis whites” (particularly the long sleeved button-up white cotton shirt typically worn for tennis) restrictive, he designed a white, short-sleeved, piqué cotton shirt with a flat protruding collar, a buttoned placket, and a shirt-tail longer in back than in front. He wore it for the first time at the1926 U.S. Open championship. After retiring from tennis in 1933, he began mass-marketing such polo shirts for tennis.
René Lacoste in formal attire alongside fellow French tennis player, Jean Borotra.
So how did this shirt come to be called a polo shirt, when it was actually worn for tennis?
Originally polo players wore thick long sleeved shirts with a collar, typically made of Oxford cotton, with a button down collar. It was John Brooks, the founder of Brooks Brothers who came up with the idea of a button-down collar after he observed collars flipping upward during polo matches. However these shirts were not ideal for polo, being restrictive, so polo players readily adopted Lacoste’s tennis shirts, once they became aware of them some time during the 1930s.
The term polo shirt, which previously had referred only to the long sleeved, buttoned-down shirts traditionally used in polo, soon became a universal term for the tennis shirt.
By the 1950s, it was in common usage to describe the shirt most commonly thought of as part of “tennis whites.” Indeed, tennis players often would refer to their shirt as a polo shirt, notwithstanding the fact that their sport had used it before polo did. The following decade saw the polo shirt moved beyond sportswear to streetwear, thanks to Fred Perry’s polos being embraced by the Mods.
This classic top has come a long way since the 30s!
Mods in the 1960s. Photo Credit: The Scooterist