Reviewed & updated: October 19, 2022 by Jamie Wilson BA
Polo shirts are a staple piece, especially for men’s summer fashion. Traditionally worn by tennis players, this classic top is now one of the most iconic pieces of clothing a man can wear. So if you’re wondering how to style it without looking like you’re about to play a set of doubles, then you’ve come to the right place.
Polo shirts originally came from the tennis court but they have since come to be seen not only behind a racket but also on the high street. However choosing a polo that suits you and and your wardrobe is not something that’s easy to achieve because of the amount of different types of collars, fittings, buttons and materials. You should be careful when it comes to the details and always match it with the right trousers or shorts. Nevertheless, once your polo shirt is paired correctly, your outfit will be a stylish favourite and one of your go to looks.
The polo shirt gives of a smart yet laid-back look that’s suitable for all occasions. It can be dressed up with a blazer and chinos or down with a pair of shorts and trainers, either way your polo top will be a great addition to your summer and winter wardrobes.
Types of Men’s Polo Shirts
Long Sleeve Polo Shirts
The lesser known of the polo shirt is the long sleeve polo shirt. Always good when you are experiencing British weather and aren’t too sure if it’ll be sunny one minute, or a hail storm the next. A great piece to have in the wardrobe as you can dress it up for more smart-casual occasions. These are usually slim fitted and can be worn for smart occasions as they seem to replicated a casual version of a traditional shirt.
Short Sleeve Polo Shirts
The short-sleeved polo shirt is a more traditional style for men who need a sense of comfort. The fit is looser so that you can move easily, the collar is wider and the sleeves give you a casual laid back feel. This style is a good choice whether you’re an athlete, casual golfer or a guy who just wants to look good this summer. Plus the colour options are endless.
The regular fit polos are the most common fit. They sit a little looser around the torso with the sleeves feeling snug. This is a good option if you want to show off a gym body or you don’t quite have the slender build you need to pull off the next fit. The sleeve length can vary so you’ll be able to pick up the length you prefer.
Slim Fit Polo Shirt
If you have a slim body shape then you can opt for a slim fit polo shirt. The abs, chest, biceps and triceps are more emphasised and this kind of polo offers a more tailored appearance. Perfect for a night out, or if you’re heading on a date. However, one point to remember is that you don’t want it to look overly tight, slim fitting is enough to show off your muscles.
Wearing Polo Shirt for Sports
Professional tennis players and golfers are big fans of the polo shirt, the ease of the fit and the smart style is what draws them in. When choosing a professional polo shirt the sportsmen have their physical needs in mind. Breathability and comfort are at the top of the list alongside the style of course. One big difference between standard polo shirts and a golf or tennis shirt is the technology behind the materials. The professional ones are designed to provide men with free movement. They also offer sufficient breathability for when they get hot under the collar. In most cases, these shirts are made using a synthetic blend of materials designed for active living.
How to Wear the Polo Shirt
Chinos and Trainers
One of the ideal ways to wear your polo shirt is with a pair of chinos and trainers. This is one the safer options to go for as you get a good balance between smart and casual. You can add colour to your polo and wear plain chinos or vice versa, however we’d always recommend sticking to neutral chino colours and not anything too bright. If you’re wearing a coloured polo then black Dickies will go nicely, and if you’re in navy or blue bottoms, keep the polo colours light, tonal and complementary.
This way of styling your polo can make you look clean, neat and well-dressed for all occasions. Chinos come in various shapes and styles so you will definitely find the one that is suitable for you and the trainers you decide to pair them with. As we’ve already covered, make sure your polo shirt fits well around your arms, chest and isn’t too tight. For the trainers, try and keep them light. A white high top pair of converse will fit in nicely.
Shorts and Boat shoes
With the hot weather around the corner an ideal and stylish outfit for your summer holiday is to match a polo shirt with shorts. This is a combination that makes every man seem well-dressed, even when it is burning up outside. You just need to make sure you choose the right fabric polo shirt and you’ll feel comfortable in the heat. You don’t want anything too tight or too dark and the darker the colour the more you feel the heat. Stick to whites, pastels and light tones for both the shorts and polo. On your feet throw on a pair of boat shoes and you’ll be ready to walk along the beach.
Polo Shirt with a Blazer
As we all know a blazer is the best companion to a oxford shirt or turtle neck so pairing your polo with a blazer needs some thought. First of all, you need to be picky about the blazer you choose to wear on top of your polo. You need a relaxed blazer, nothing overly smart and one that can be worn with a different pair of trousers. Since the polo is designed for summer, the blazer should be light in both material and colour. A light grey or blue will work well especially if you have a white polo on underneath. Pair with some navy smart trousers and loafers for a summer wedding kind of look.
Slim Fit Trousers and Oxford Shoes
If you want to look smart but it’s too hot to dress things up with a blazer you need to pair your polo with the right trousers and shoes. A pair of slim fit and straight legged trousers will go perfectly. You can add interest to the outfit through the colour and pattern of the trouser,s whether it’s a grey pin stripe or navy check. The polo should also be fitted and either be in a similar tone to the trouser colour or if you want to keep it simple then go for a white polo shirt. This smart outfit can be perfectly matched with a leather pair of loafers, sleek oxford shoes, monk shoes, or some trusty brogues. As long as your shoes are smart, polished and presentable you’ll be ready for any formal summer occasion.
The Casual Polo Shirt
For a casual style, you should pair your polo shirt with a pair of casual jeans or if you want to go all out casual then slim fit joggers will also be a good option. For the jeans look, don’t go overly baggy. However, as this is a casual outfit you can pull out your favourite and most comfortable pair of jeans and wear them with the shirt. Black, blue or navy, you can choose from them all. Throw on some trainers and you’ll be dressed ready to spend a weekend chilling out. With joggers, keep them tight and slim and wear them with a sporty polo top and not one that could look too formal. Again, trainers are the way to go.
How to Choose a Polo Shirt
The material is an important factor when choosing new clothing so it’s no different when it comes to polo shirts. And although you may think there’s not much variation, there is. You want a decent, thick fabric so going for something too cheap may look thin and appear see-through. However if you are looking for a cheap polo shirt, always go for a blended fabric. A natural and synthetic blend will give you all the best properties at a lower cost to a pure cotton polo. But if you do go for a blend for less money, be wary that it won’t be as soft as one that’s slightly pricier.
The fit of the shirt should be slim but not tight. Ideally, a polo shirt should be a slim fitting design with fitted sleeves that reach about halfway between the shoulder and the elbow. Avoid polo shirts that are too tight as no one wants to look like they’re wearing children’s sized clothing. The distinctive buttoned collar on a polo shirt also has some different variations. Some polos have a longer insert which often prevents you from wearing the buttons undone, so always try on the polo shirt unbuttoned if you want to avoid designs with a long inset. When the inset reaches your mid-chest, avoid unbuttoning all the buttons.
If you are an athlete, you will probably go for a performance material. They are usually made from light synthetics or blends and will offer odour reduction and UV protection. Their prices vary depending on the brand so you only really need to opt for this type of polo shirt if you are golfing, playing tennis or when exercising.
How Not to Wear Your Polo Shirt
Let’s now look at some of the ways you shouldn’t be wearing your polo shirt. We’ll start with the fact that you shouldn’t wear it too long. A traditional polo shirt is longer in the back and shorter in the front. So you have to make sure when buying a new polo that the tail does not go down longer than over half of your back pockets. If it’s longer than that it will end up looking more like a dress than a top. Secondly, while we’re on the subject of fit, make sure the sleeves are fitted and not really baggy. The sleeves of a polo shirt should not be too tight or too loose. They should come down to the mid-bicep mark and should be hugging the arm.
Wearing an undershirt is a definite no. One of the biggest mistakes a man can make is wearing a polo shirt with an undershirt. The polo is a casual piece of clothing, so an undershirt doesn’t work – especially when you can see it peeking through the sleeves. Also, an undershirt with a polo will make you bulk, and not in a good way.
You also don’t have to unbutton all the buttons. One of the important things you should be aware of once you have found a polo you like is the buttons. The buttons on the placket differ from brand to brand, some might have three and some may have four. Depending on the buttons the shirt might open down to the chest or higher. If the buttons reach the chest, you should never unbutton all of your buttons, but you can get away with the top one for extra comfort and a more relaxed finish.
A Brief History of the Polo Shirt
The exact origin of the polo shirt is unknown, however, it is said that the style made its first appearance in the late 19th century in Manipur, India.
In the 1920s the polo shirt was reinvented by Jean Rene Lacoste, the famous French tennis player who was dissatisfied with the polo shirts worn at that time which were uncomfortable. For that reason, Lacoste decided to design an alternative style that would suit him more and would satisfy his needs. He took advantage of his worldwide status and created his own range of polo shirts. He made these new shirts short-sleeved, using pique cotton to allow breathability. This characteristic of the pique material is something that still makes the shirt popular today.
In the 1950’s the polo shirt became famous in America and was preferred by the guys when they were having their dinner and milkshake. They would match them with a sports jacket. At that time it became a famous garment to wear and it would usually be seen on golf players, too. This continued in the 1960s when men adopted a more sophisticated style and polo shirts were a part of that look. Lacoste and Fred Perry became a must have for all fashion icons.
In the 1970s there was the revolution of polos when Ralph Lauren set up a new company of both fashionable and casual clothes all with a stylish sporty aesthetic. It was a key leader of his collections, obviously, the polo shirt was an identifiable piece because of the wide range of colour palettes available.
The 80s were the golden era of this garment, characterised by a constant challenge between the brands, partly won by Polo Ralph Lauren, because of its higher quality of material. The Ralph Lauren polo shirts were the emblem of America’s rich and famous.
From the 1990s until now the polo shirt has become part of standard informal business attire and it’s regularly used as part of a uniform. Due to this, businesses recognised the benefits of branding a polo shirt with their name and logo.
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Spectre re-introduced the polo shirt and established it as a sign of elegance. Today, the polo remains one of the most popular pieces in menswear and deserves a prime place in every guy’s closet.
How to Wear a Polo Shirt
- The fit needs to be right. Know your body shape and choose accordingly. The sleeves should sit halfway down your bicep and the chest shouldn’t be too tight.
- Each style has it’s highlighted properties. Polo shirts can be long or short sleeved, be buttoned up or down. It’s entirely up to you.
- Wear it smart for summer days when a shirt is too much. Try wearing a polo shirt with a blazer and trousers for a great smart casual look.
- Sports wear also incorporates the polo. Polo shirts were originally designed for tennis and golf. Their breathability makes them great for this and their use today in both uniform and sports wear.
On That Note
Polo shirts are a classic item in a man’s closet. They’re smart and elegant and are suitable for many occasions. You can wear them in a number of ways from casual to smart-casual to smart. Whether you’re going out with friends or for a game of tennis or heading down the pub to sink some pints, a polo will be a good companion. You can experiment with colours and styles and create different to suit your own personal style. As you get more confident wearing polo shirts you’ll find there are many interesting ways to dress them to create your own unique style.