Why Is The Polo Shirt Named After The Wrong Sport?

A common, practical part of many people’s wardrobes is the ever-versatile polo shirt, and when people choose to buy bargain clothes online, the polo shirt is often high on their list of priorities.

However, whilst it is named after the sport where people ride horses and hit balls with mallets, the shirt that has become an essential part of many wardrobes was never designed with the ‘sport of kings’ in mind, and the connection only came far later in its life.

What caused this confusion, and which sport was the polo shirt actually designed for?


The Original Polo Shirt

Polo’s standardised rules were first established in 1873, but the game had been played with various different rule sets for centuries before this. In places where the sport was popular, such as India in the mid-19th century, the formal dress shirts worn on the field were already being changed.

Buttons had been added to the collar to stop it from flapping around in the wind during rather vigorous play, and when John Brooks, president of the Brooks Brothers clothing company, saw this, he designed what has since become known as the Oxford Cotton Button-Down (OCBD).

This is a shirt that to this day is sometimes described as the first polo shirt, but when people talk about polo shirts today, they are seldom describing this kind of shirt.

In order to find the origins of the actual polo shirt, we need to look at another shirt with a rather infamous dress code.


The Crocodile

René Lacoste, a tennis legend and seven-time Grand Slam champion, had grown somewhat frustrated with the uncomfortable nature of the official ‘tennis whites’ uniform of the time.

The shirts were long-sleeved and button-up but with the sleeves rolled up, the trousers were made of flannel and players even had to wear ties on the court. The stiff clothing was getting in the way of tennis as the players’ skill level increased exponentially.

To get around this, Mr Lacoste designed what we know today as a tennis shirt, with short, cuffed sleeves that wouldn’t roll down, a shirt that could be buttoned to the top without discomfort, more breathable material, a collar that did not get in the way and a tennis tale that would stay in the beltline.

He first wore this shirt at the US Open in 1926 and it quickly became very popular, especially once he started to stitch a crocodile emblem to reflect his nickname of ‘The Crocodile’ and a design that is still seen today on Lacoste shirts.

Once he retired, Mr Lacoste founded the eponymous clothing company, and they continue to make high-quality polo shirts to this very day.


From Tennis To Polo

In a strange twist of fate, the tennis shirt would become the polo shirt through a connection to another popular fashion line in the form of Ralph Lauren.

In 1972, he promoted a tennis shirt as a major part of his Polo line of products, adding a small polo player emblem in the same way Lacoste had the crocodile. Since then, the polo shirt has only been used to describe the tennis shirt that is a part of so many outfits.


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