The history of the polo shirt

The polo shirt is possibly one of the most popular garments of our time and it has a long history, spiced with international influences from some very famous names. We explore the cultures, sports and people who have influenced its appearance, material, and popularity over the years.


Polo Shirt

A good place to start might be a modern-day definition, just before we delve into the influencers and the history. A polo shirt is a form of shirt with a collar, a placket neckline with two or three buttons, and an optional pocket. Polo shirts are usually made of knitted cotton (rather than woven cloth), usually a piqué knit.


Lady playing polo with poloshirt

As far as the polo shirts first appearance in the UK, it is reported that British military stationed in Manipur brought polo to the UK in the late 19th Century. They adopted polo from the Indian natives and brought it back to the UK where it became synonymous with royalty, and the upper-class. The polo uniform included a long-sleeved cotton shirt, similar to a dress shirt. The shirt was inspired by the striped, hip-length, round-neck jerseys worn by Indian aristocrats at that time.


A key downside to the shirt was the collar flapped as players enthusiastically played the sport. John Brooks of the firm Brooks Brothers noticed that players fastened them with pins or buttons while visiting England in the late 1800s. When he returned to the States, he introduced button-down collars onto all his dress shirts, a feature that still has a strong place today on modern shirts. Brooks Brothers introduced the first mass-marketed button -down polo shirt in 1896.


Tennis player polo shirt

The piqué polo shirt that we know today however doesn’t have its origin on the polo field but more on the tennis court – a short-sleeved version with a top row of buttons and a collar – was first designed for playing tennis in France in 1929. The designer a very well-known name and major tennis star René Lacoste. His design in classic white was initially intended only for himself and therefore decorated with an embroidered crocodile on the left chest, which reflected his nickname. However, in the 1930s, his design sparked massive interest and the Lacoste polo shirt soon became a well-established article of clothing, and one that the polo club fraternity immediately welcomed. In 1933, after retiring from professional tennis, Lacoste teamed up with André Gillier, a friend who was a clothing merchandiser, to market that shirt in Europe and North America.


It was 33 years later, that the first polo piqué by Polo Ralph Lauren was launched on the market. This had a little embroidered polo player on the left chest, it quickly achieved similar cult status as the Lacoste shirt, and is now one of the most famous polo shirts in the world, alongside Lacoste’s.


Tuffnells brand identity

The polo shirt is a key part of the many workwear garments we are asked to produce, often seen as smart yet casual, it is extremely functional and an ideal choice for summer uniform wear. We brand polo shirts in house and assure you get the best quality garments so staff feel comfortable, cool and look their best. Contact Us if we can be of assistance.