The original polo shirt was designed by French tennis pro René Lacoste in the 1920s, as an upgrade on the long-sleeved button-downs that contemporary tastes somehow thought appropriate for charging round a court. Lacoste disagreed, so capped the sleeves and crafted his shirts from knitted piqué cotton, for added breeziness. The makeover won him seven grand slams and envious glances across the net.
Racket hung up, Lacoste debuted his eponymous label, with a crocodile logo inspired by his on-court nickname. It became synonymous with the kind of sports where sweat and smartness are equally valued; the fabric keeps golfers and polo players cool on the turf, but the buttoned placket and collar let them step straight into the clubhouse.
Those characteristics endure, even if you’re now more likely to see polos in the crowd than on the court. But when you’re wearing yours to watch, not play, the best polos are still breathable and cut slim. “It has become one of the most versatile items in a man’s wardrobe,” says Damien Paul, head of menswear at MATCHESFASHION.COM. “I’ve seen more classic styles worn with a linen suit at a summer wedding, which is suitably formal, and then you have the likes of Givenchy whose graphic approach works well on a much younger guy off-duty.”
Because the polo shirt sits in the sporty-smart sweet spot, it works to upgrade up your weekend looks, or reduce the stuffiness of your formalwear. “It can be worn alone with light coloured pants, or teamed with a cotton jacket for a smarter look,” says Graeme Fidler, founder of London label Several;. In fact, it goes anywhere you’d normally deploy a button-down, or a tee. So, that’s summer sorted. Merci, René.
10 Of The Best Men’s Polo Shirts
River Island Grey Zip-Up Polo Shirt
The polo shirt is distinguishable not only by its collar but its traditional buttoned placket. But swap the latter for a zip and a classic suddenly looks ultramodern.
Available at River Island, priced £22.
Margaret Howell Polo Shirt
Margaret Howell’s full buttoned iteration is cut in a sporty shape and comes in all-white. So your look is court-ready, even if your game isn’t.
Available at Mr Porter, priced £85.
Brioni Classic Polo Shirt
The slim fit and sober hue up the smartness stakes, making Brioni’s polo shirt your suit’s high summer BFF.
Available at Farfetch, priced £360.35.
Orlebar Brown Terry Towelling Polo Shirt
The polo shirt is a holiday staple, and not just for lads with the collar popped. Instead, make like James Bond in Goldfinger and throw a towelling version on post-dip as the most stylish way to dry off.
Available at Orlebar Brown, priced £95.
Original Penguin Pique Polo Shirt
Original Penguin’s bright shades won’t impress Wimbledon’s stewards, but will catch every other eye.
Available at Original Penguin, priced £45.
Ted Baker Treekal Linen Polo Shirt
If the basic polo seems too strait-laced, bedazzle your opponents with Ted’s striking yellow linen version.
Available at Ted Baker, priced £60.
Reiss Jacquard Polo Shirt
When short sleeves are too dressed-down (or the British summer is being, well, the British summer) cover up with Reiss’ preppy take.
Available at Reiss, priced £75.
Several; Hulme Polo Shirt
Wool might not seem a sensible summer move, but merino is lightweight, breathable and super absorbent. So you won’t sweat that heatwave commute.
Available at Several, priced £85.
Lacoste L.12.12 Polo Shirt
The original is near-unchanged since René’s days. So whichever colour you choose, and whether you wear for work or play, it comes with heritage as standard.
Available at Lacoste, priced £75.
Sunspel Riviera Polo Shirt
Sunspel designed the Riviera polo for Daniel Craig’s 007. Even if you’re not quite built like Bond, its slim cut and high armholes mean it’s still the most physique-flattering shirt you’ll ever pull on.
Available at Sunspel, priced £80.