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. “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 your weekend looks, or reduce the stuffiness of your formalwear. “Shorts, denim and chinos make for the best companions, but a polo shirt can be smarted up with a blazer or relaxed with a lightweight bomber jacket,” says Phill Tarling, a stylist that counts M&S and Top Gear among previous paychecks. “Just make sure the collar’s folded down, and save your favourite football polo jersey for match days only.”
That’s summer sorted. Merci, René.
Lacoste Live Rubber Crocodile Polo Shirt
It’d be unfair to chart the best of the bunch without referencing the very man that started it all. Though while Lacoste has built a reputation on classic iterations, know that modern – and dare we say it, cooler – choices exist, much like this blue double striped number with an enlarged rubber crocodile motif.
Available at Lacoste, priced £42.50.
Dockers Premium Polo Shirt
Yellow, despite being one of the warmest colours in the book, can often look more bleach bottle than buttercup. So, deploy the tone in a foolproof shade and shape a la Dockers’ premium design. While the striking colour takes centre stage, the US outfit tempers the impact thanks to minimal branding and embellishment.
Available at Dockers, priced £27.99.
Fred Perry Polo Shirt
Tennis whites weren’t solely dominated by good old René. Some time after, Fred Perry launched his own namesake label for the Brits, too. Rather than classic court shapes however, the brand has evolved into something far more trend-led, with this block panel option melding the traditional silhouette with Bauhaus geometrics.
Available at Fred Perry, priced £70.
Lanvin Striped Collar Wool Polo Shirt
If you thought polo shirts to be the sole preserve of sports brands, think again; Lanvin, the world’s oldest independent French fashion house, is just as artful. Though instead of breathable cotton piqués, the label stuck to its luxury roots with Italian wool and minimal stripe detailing.
Available at Matches Fashion, priced £495.
Tommy Hilfiger Denim Flag Logo Polo Shirt
Europe shouldn’t take all the credit. Tommy Hilfiger, king of Ivy League prep, launched his own take on the classic polo shirt, imbuing the Land Of The Free’s favourite shades within a traditional, flattering shape. Oh say can you see.
Available at Topman, priced £55.
River Island Cream Knit Polo Shirt
Like all good wardrobe staples, polo shirts boast versatility – especially if longer sleeved. Not only will River Island’s cream option sit with just about every darker colour in your wardrobe, the piece can act as a more casual buffer to tailored trousers.
Available at River Island, priced £25.
M&S Merino Wool Blend Polo Shirt
If monochrome is the safest of colour wheels, consider a black polo shirt a nuclear style bunker. Which is no bad thing. M&S’s textured choice is a foolproof investment that can flit between civvies and tailoring at will, making for an informed – and very safe – investment.
Available at M&S, priced £39.50.
Reiss Mountain Textured Polo Shirt
A polo shirt doesn’t need gimmicks to stand out. Reiss’s long-sleeved take uses simple texture to add depth, and it’s a move that’ll lift basic smart-casual outfits to more considered heights.
Available at Reiss, priced £95.
Dunhill Contrast Tipped Cotton Polo Shirt
Any climes north of nineteen degrees demand a lighter shade (or at least they do in the UK). So, make like Mr Ripley in Dunhill’s sky blue polo shirt – an easy-to-wear colour that swerves both mediocrity and fleeting-trend syndrome.
Available at Mr Porter, priced £220.
Burton Green Tipped Pique Polo Shirt
Tipped as Pantone’s colour of the year, shades of green are firmly back on the menswear radar. So it makes sense that Burton has placed the potentially tricky tone into as solid and wearable piece as the polo shirt. What’s more, it’s available in big and tall sizes if you’re lucky enough to rock a robust frame.
Available at Burton, priced £15.