Forget any preconceived notions you have about polo shirts. The menswear staple has officially shaken off its associations with golf dads and Britpop-loving teens to deservedly reclaim its status as a reliable smart-casual go-to for just about any occasion. Scroll on for everything you need to know about this unassuming wardrobe hero – from its origins to the best men's polo shirts to buy in 2022.
The history of men's polo shirts
As its name suggests, the polo shirt – or a version of it – was originally invented for polo players in the late 1800s. John Brooks, an American haberdasher and grandson of Brooks Brothers founder Henry Sands Brooks, noticed on a trip to England that polo players were sewing buttons on their shirt collars to prevent the collars from flapping around during games. He took the idea home to the US and began producing shirts with button-down collars en masse.
It wasn't until the 1920s, however, that the polo shirt as we know it today was born, all thanks to the French tennis icon René Lacoste. Frustrated with the rigid codes of tennis wear, which required players to wear a heavy and uncomfortable long-sleeved button-up shirt, Lacoste began wearing a short sleeved shirt in a lightweight cotton pique – a soft, breathable and relaxed style that improved his freedom of movement and performance. Soon enough, he was approached by American manufacturer André Gillier to collaborate on the creation of the modern tennis shirt. In 1933, La Chemise Lacoste was founded, adopting the crocodile as its logo in a nod to Lacoste's nickname.
Over the decades, polo shirts became popularised off the court amongst sporty middle-class types – from British mods to American East Coast preppies and even presidents – President Dwight D. Eisenhower and President John F Kennedy were both big fans. In the late '60s, a young designer by the name of Ralph Lauren launched a brand called Polo. Emblazoned with a trademark polo player, the polo shirt became the uniform of America's leisure-loving elite.
Fast forward to today and practically every menswear brand has created its own version of the men's polo shirt, harnessing all manner of cuts, fabrics and patterns and elevating the garment beyond its sporty origins.
How to wear a polo shirt
Occupying that sweet spot between a collared shirt and a T-shirt, the polo shirt lends itself easily to being dressed up or down. Channel weekend ease and team it with shorts, denim or chinos, or smarten it up by layering it under a blazer and tucking it into high-waisted tailored trousers. Its lightweight construction and smart-casual appeal make it the ultimate holiday shirt, perfect for taking you from the pool to cocktail hour. Throw on a pair of espadrilles and slip into off-duty mode.
11 best men's polo shirts to buy in 2022
The Resort Co Knitted Polo Shirt
With its clean cut and fuss-free design, this knitted polo shirt from London-based resortwear brand The Resort Co is guaranteed to be a fail-safe summer staple that you'll reach for time and again. Crafted from 100% organic Italian pima cotton, choose navy, khaki, ivory or azure – easy-to-wear hues that you simply can't go wrong with.
Luca Faloni Fine Silk-Cashmere Polo
Made in Italy from a luxurious blend of cashmere and silk, this polo shirt from menswear maestro Luca Faloni is super-soft and ultra-lightweight, designed to drape beautifully over your body. Team it with chinos and loafers for an easy evening look.
Unrecorded Pique Polo Shirt
Amsterdam-based brand Unrecorded is renowned for its less-is-more approach to design. Its take on the polo shirt is characteristically understated, with a straight slim fit and organic cotton construction. Just like a crisp white T-shirt or classic chore jacket, it's a year-round wardrobe hero. We won't judge you for purchasing one in every colour.
Artknit Studios Linen Cotton Vintage Polo
Trust Artknit Studios to create a polo shirt as luxurious as this one. The Milanese knitwear brand has opted for an Italian-spun blend of European linen and organic cotton. Wear it with tailored trousers and a smart blazer for an effortless dinner look.
Scaglione Soft Bourette Polo
For a subtle injection of retro style, look no further than this silk polo shirt from renowned Italian knitwear brand Scaglione. With ribbing at the sleeves and waist, it calls to mind the laidback elegance of the late 1950s. Lean into the old-school aesthetic and team it with high waisted trousers, a sleek belt and penny loafers.
WAHTS Rice Polo
This buttonless polo from Dutch luxury sportswear label WAHTS is a retro-inspired casual classic. Crafted from breathable cotton piqué, it's a laidback poolside staple that's best teamed with chino shorts, loafers and an afternoon spritz.
Norse Projects Johan Tech Merino Polo
Norse Projects has upgraded the classic men's polo shirt, imbuing it with enhanced technical features for a variety of active pursuits. Knitted from extra fine merino wool, it boasts innovative 37.5 technology, which helps keep your body at the ideal core temperature of 37.5°C and helps keep the microclimate next to your skin at the ideal relative humidity of 37.5%.
ISTO. Piqué Polo
Portuguese label ISTO.'s take on the polo shirt is understated yet elegant, boasting a flattering straight silhouette, mother of pearl buttons and 100% organic cotton construction. What's more, it's fully traceable, with the origins, cost and impact of the shirt's production revealed in full, so you can feel good about your purchase.
Forét Herb Polo Sweatshirt
This long-sleeve polo sweatshirt from Danish label Forét is an elevated take on a sportswear classic. Made from 100% organic cotton, it boasts a relaxed fit and elegant mother of pearl buttons. Wear it as it is or treat it as a lightweight jumper, thrown on over a T-shirt on cool summer evenings.
Percival Apéritif Knit
Trust London-based label Percival to put its own playful twist on a menswear classic. The result is this summer-ready knitted cotton polo shirt, which — as its name suggests — isone to wear whilst savouring an apéritif. Wear it buttoned up or unbuttoned over a plain white tee.
Wax London Doon Rugby Shirt
This understated rugby-inspired polo shirt from Wax London is cut from heavyweight jersey in a relaxed, boxy fit. With sustainable corozo nut buttons and a woven contrast collar, it's all about showcasing the subtle details.
Aurélien Light Blue Linen Polo Shirt
Crafted from breathable and oh-so-soft linen, this men's polo shirt from Aurélien epitomises the brand's philosophy of 'smart luxury'. Team it with lightweight chinos and boat shoes for an effortless summer look.