Fashion / Style File

An Ode to the Polo Shirt — and Why Too Many Men Wear Them So Wrong

It's All About the Fit

BY // 08.22.19

I‘ve been meaning to pen a piece on the classic staples that every man should have in his wardrobe. One of the first items that came to mind was the polo shirt, and I realized that it alone deserved a stand-alone feature.

Given the Texas climate, polos truly are an item that can be worn almost all 12 months of the year. One can’t say that for many items (like sweaters that maybe go into rotation four months top). It’s also an article of clothing that boys of any age — whether they are toddlers or octogenarians (like my father) — can wear and still look great.

Polos also are one of the most versatile items in a man’s closet. They are great with jeans in every shade and shape (from skinny to a looser or boot cut). They make a pair of khakis less boring if they are in a vibrant shade. They can be worn with pants of any type and most definitely shorts.

The utmost key to pulling off a polo and looking polished is the fit. Can we say this all together — FIT!

The Curse of the Tent Polo

Too many times have I seen men look completely slovenly due to an ill-fitting polo shirt. Generally, this seems to be the case with the ones specifically tailored for the golf course. Men seem to be wearing sizes that are three too large for them. As if they are saying, “in the last year I’ve lost 50-pounds but insist on wearing my old clothing from my former larger self.”

Golf polo shirts belong on the greens and perhaps in the clubhouse for lunch or the final drinks of the afternoon. Never outside of those circumstances. Yes, I know many men want to show off their Augusta National logo polos as if to scream — I attend the Masters every year. It’s the equivalent of women who want to spend their entire day in their Lululemon workout clothes.

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A wonderful example of a great fitting polo shirt elevating the most casual of ensembles can be found Luca Guadagnino‘s brilliant and lush 2009 film, I Am Love. First off, if you haven’t seen this movie, stop reading this right now and go watch it. It is one of my Top 1o favorite movies of all time and the fashion is utterly brilliant. Raf Simons, when he was still at Jil Sander, created the wardrobe for Tilda Swinton’s lead character, Emma. But I digress.

There are a few examples in the film of Italian men wearing simple polo shirts, but looking incredibly put together most likely due to their fit. I’m not trying to suggest that all Italian men are svelte and have exceptional bodies. Many have some girth and perhaps some love handles, however, they make sure that they don’t run around looking like they are wearing something from a tent company.

I’ve never mastered and am actually not a huge fan of the polo under a blazer ensemble. You really have to get it precisely right on so many levels: the juxtaposition of color, size (this is how many men get it wrong — often a baggy polo under a form-fitting blazer), fabrics working together or in opposition. Kudos to you if you can make this combination your friend for business type situations.

Go-To Polos

Hopefully, you already have a few polos in your wardrobe arsenal, but if not, here are some of my suggestions. First off, the classic go-to is Lacoste. The line was founded by tennis player, René Lacoste in 1933 with André Gillier and has reigned supreme ever since.  It has been my friend for as long as I can remember and I have likely owned every color in the rainbow. In my twenties, I favored more pastels, but perhaps that was due to living in sunny spots like Miami Beach and Los Angeles.

In my thirties, my palette went more earthy and neutral with lots of shades of browns and grays. The great thing about Lacoste is it’s far from disposable fashion (see lines like Gap, J.Crew or H&M), but the prices aren’t incredibly higher as the classic knit version is now around $90.

My second favorite, but at a much more elevated price point is Thom Browne. He is the genius of updated American sportswear. His aesthetic is WASP but in a Wes Anderson adjacent way. (BTW: I can’t write a piece like this without mention of another iconic Lacoste polo moment via Margot Tenenbaum’s uniform which was a striped dress version.)

There is always a wit to Thom Browne’s collections. He can throw in a whale or a duck print and make it looks fresh and somewhat edgy and most definitely not stodgy and boring.

The other classic go-to lines are Ralph Lauren, Burberry, Boss, Rag & Bone, and Theory. I recommend Boss if you are a bigger or taller man as their fit seems to accommodate heights above 6-foot-2 (if you are that height or even taller then some lines might look cropped at your mid-section — case in point, Thom Browne).

Every season most high-end designers and labels put out new versions of the polo that fall within the confines of their aesthetic. You can find standard versions that don’t stray far from their core audience from Brunello Cucinelli, Tom Ford and Prada. For edgier, take a look towards the collections at Gucci, Kenzo, and Saint Laurent. If you want to go a little out there with a higher-end line, but still stick with a standard cut, then definitely invest in one from Comme des Garçons’ Play line.

Stock up on a few for the season ahead. Remember though for the basics always have at least one in black, white, navy and gray. Stay tuned for my next few features on other items that every man should have in his wardrobe.

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