The polo shirt has long been a men’s fashion staple. Like many classic items of clothing, it was born out of necessity and function but over the decades became an essential part of the everyday wardrobe. Smarter than a T-shirt yet more relaxed than a shirt, the polo is the ideal in-between garment – allowing it to be dressed up or down to suit the occasion.
Polo shirts take their name from the horseback ball game, but actually started life in the world of tennis. Rene Lacoste found it easier to play in lightweight, short-sleeved tops rather than the long-sleeved shirts and ties that were the norm at the time. He wore them during his career, and then sold them in retirement, profiting off the design’s comfort and laid-back appeal.
Today, polos have transcended their sporty heritage and are widely available in a huge range of styles and variations, all offering their own unique look. From how to achieve the perfect fit to polo shirt outfit suggestions, here’s how to ace this sportswear icon.
How to wear a polo shirt
The fabric of your polo shirt plays a big part in the garment’s feel. The classic choice is of course pique cotton, which has been used since the polo’s invention in the 1920s. Synonymous with the style, pique cotton is relatively soft to the touch and boasts a unique waffle texture due to the way it’s knitted. Because of its heavy associations with classic tennis wear, pique cotton polos have a distinct casual, sporty look, so keep this in mind when considering the pieces you combine with yours.
However, the beauty of the polo shirt in 2024 is the sheer variety in fabric offerings available. Pique cotton might be the standard, but they are also available in cotton jersey, which has a flatter look similar to a T-shirt, through to premium cashmere and merino wool versions, which elevate the once humble polo into an altogether smarter style, allowing them to be combined with tailoring without jarring.
Polo shirt style
The type of polo shirt your choose will make a big difference to how you style it. Traditionally, polos come with short sleeves and two- or three-button plackets, which finish around chest height. But again this has evolved over time. Sure, you can pick up a polo with the classic ‘tipped’ collars (think Fred Perry), but modern-day iterations also feature things like single chest pockets, full-length, button-through plackets, long sleeves, Cuban collars… you name it.
With this in mind, it’s worth deciding when and where you’re going to wear your polo most regularly. If you want something that leans smarter – perhaps to combine with unstructured tailoring – look for something long-sleeved and made from luxury fabrics such as Sea Island cotton or a wool-bend.
If you want something more casual and sporty, on the other hand, you won’t go wrong with a washed cotton or pique polo. Want to bring a more Italian flavour to your look? Try an open-neck style, which are more relaxed and reference classic mid-century resortwear.
The polo shirt is a sort of blank canvas – you can wear them whichever way you want, you just need to pick a style that matches your needs.
Modern polo shirt fit
Given that polo shirts were initially intended as sporting uniform, they’ve always been cut relatively close to the body so as not to distract from play. The fit has remained relatively unchanged since the 20s, when they were slim through the chest and waist but still allowed for plenty of movement. Why fix something that ain’t broken?
Because of this, classic polo shirts still look incredibly contemporary today, slotting seamlessly into the 21st century wardrobe. If you’re after a looser, more relaxed fit, try sizing up or considering a modern design. Button-through polo shirts, for example, tend to be slightly boxier so they can be worn untucked, while plenty of brands offer oversized polos, which are ideal for slotting into streetwear-inspired looks.
Polo shirt outfits for men
Patterned preppy polo shirt
Polo shirts are a great way to add a pop of colour or pattern underneath a layered look. Here the plaid polo has a primary palette of green and beige, with the latter matching the tone of the camel overcoat above. It’s an advanced-level menswear move that helps tie the outfit together and makes it feel more cohesive.
If you want to get the look for yourself, stick to neutrals and earthy tones and you won’t go wrong.
Taking a minimalist approach and opting for a tonal look is foolproof. Polos are ideal for this, standing in where a T-shirt might otherwise be a bit too plain and ordinary.
The collar keeps things from becoming too casual, combining perfectly with the sharpness of the overcoat and tailored trousers.
Polo shirt tucked in with shorts
Back in the day, Rene Lacoste only wore his polo shirts tucked in. While it can look a little like you’re ready to hit the golf course today, a tucked in polo is still an effective way to wear one.
As shown above, try a slim-fitting white pique polo with a pair of shorts and minimal sneakers for a smart casual, summer-ready outfit.
The long-sleeved polo shirt
Smarter than its short-sleeved cousin, long sleeve polos are ideal for adding a sharper edge to your casual wear. Look for a cotton or wool-blend design and combine it with slim-fitting jeans or trousers and loafers for a modern take on business casual.
Tucked in polo shirt with chinos
Did we mention polo shirts are versatile? Sure, they can be worn untucked with tailored trousers, adding a casual edge to an otherwise smart look; or they can be tucked in, instantly elevating said trousers while still remaining more laid back than a dress shirt.
Riviera-inspired polo shirt
Riviera style is one we come back to every summer, and for good reason. It’s easy to wear and makes use of soft, pastel colours that look particularly good on hot, sunny days.
Take this polo shirt – with its slim fit, open collar and knitted construction – it looks effortlessly chic when paired with tailored shorts and white sneakers.
Polo shirt tucked into jeans
The polo shirt tuck just doesn’t work with tailored trousers, as this outfit proves. By slotting a knitted, open collar version into slim-fitting, light-wash jeans, it brings a rugged and modern feel to what would otherwise be a classic Riviera look.
The key to getting this right lies in the polo shirt itself: it should be cut slim and be crafted from a softer fabric such as merino wool (rather than thick, structured pique cotton). This will allow you to create a neat tuck without any billowing or bulk around the waist, which can look sloppy.
Polo shirt with selvedge jeans
This is as classic and as easy at it gets when styling a polo shirt. Take a traditional white cotton version then match it with your favourite selvedge denim jeans and a pair of suede chukka boots.
Throw on luxe blouson or lightweight bomber jacket in case the temperature drops and you’ve got a go-to everyday look that no man can mess up.
Monochrome polo shirt
An easy way to dress smart casual, try combining a charcoal, long-sleeved polo with black jeans or trousers and finish with contrasting white sneakers.
It’s a simple, unassuming look but one that will see you through a wide variety of social settings.
Polo shirt with tailoring
Polo shirts are often thought of as strictly casual items, but this isn’t true. Find a cotton or wool-blend, long sleeve polo and it’s the perfect substitute for a shirt when worn under a suit or separates.
Zip-neck polo shirt
A more contemporary take on the classic design, the zip-neck polo offers an easy way to mix up your casual wear. Try one in stone coloured wool and pair it with a brown suede jacket, navy chinos and chunky sneakers for an alternative approach to smart casual.
Ivy League polo shirt
Polo shirts owe a lot of their popularity to Ivy Leaguers of the 60s, who heavily adopted the style as part of the burgeoning preppy way of dressing.
As cool now as it was then, channel your own bit of American prep by combining a green knitted polo with a suede bomber, off-white jeans and loafers.
Bold colour polo shirt
A polo shirt can easily become the focal point of your look, especially if you go for one in a bright colour like burnt orange or sunshine yellow. If you fancy going the colourful route, keep the rest of the look muted, which will allow it to shine brightest.
Polos are often associated with vintage sportswear looks, but they can easily be incorporated into more modern athleisure fits. Try this for yourself by pairing a white pique polo shirt with drawstring trousers, a cropped blouson jacket and knitted running shoes, as shown here.
Minimal polo shirt
While they can make a statement, polo shirts are often at their best when worn as part of a minimal outfit. Long sleeve, knitted polos are the perfect match to tailored trousers and Derby shoes – it’s a pared-back look but one you’ll return to time and time again.
For fans of lightweight jackets like bombers, Harringtons and truckers, polo shirts are your best friend. For a staple spring look, opt for a light blue polo worn under a navy bomber, pulling the two together with neutral trousers and canvas sneakers.
Athletic polo shirt
They may have stepped off the tennis court and into the casual wardrobe, but polo shirts can still be worn for exercise. For a look as suited to the gym as it is grabbing a coffee, try a pique polo tucked into drawstring shorts, a matching hooded jacket and running shoes.
Dress down your suit
A knitted polo might just be the perfect finishing touch to an unstructured suit and sneakers. It’s difficult to wear tailoring with sneakers, but an open-collar knitted polo makes the job a whole lot easier, offering just the right amount of sharpness while subtly referencing your shoes’ sporting heritage.
Polo shirt with pleated trousers
This is a lesson in cohesiveness. Every single item within the look – slim knitted polo shirt, cropped pleated pants, minimal leather sneakers, suede bomber jacket – strikes exactly the same chord: smart casual.
It’s a perfectly balanced outfit where every piece feels like it was made to be worn with each other. Effortless.
Textured polo shirt
A textured polo shirt might be the menswear move you need to make. Although harder to find, they offer a unique look that adds a point of different to smart casual fits consisting of bombers, tailored trousers and boat shoes.
Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts
As an expert in men's fashion, I have a deep understanding of the polo shirt and its significance in the world of style. The polo shirt has been a staple in men's fashion for many years, evolving from its origins in sport to become a versatile and essential part of the everyday wardrobe.
The polo shirt was initially used in the game of tennis by Rene Lacoste, who found it more comfortable to play in lightweight, short-sleeved tops rather than the traditional long-sleeved shirts and ties. Lacoste later went on to sell these shirts, capitalizing on their comfort and laid-back appeal.
Today, polo shirts have moved beyond their sporty origins and come in a wide range of styles and variations, each offering its own unique look. The fabric of a polo shirt plays a significant role in its feel, with pique cotton being the classic choice due to its softness and waffle texture. However, there are now various fabric options available, such as cotton jersey, cashmere, and merino wool, allowing for different levels of formality and versatility.
When it comes to styling a polo shirt, the type of shirt you choose makes a difference. Traditional polos typically have short sleeves and two- or three-button plackets, but modern variations feature additional details like single chest pockets, full-length button-through plackets, long sleeves, and Cuban collars. The choice of style depends on the occasion and the desired look, whether it be a more formal or casual aesthetic.
In terms of fit, polo shirts were originally designed to be close-fitting to the body, allowing for ease of movement during sports. This slim fit has remained relatively unchanged over the years, giving classic polo shirts a contemporary appeal. However, there are now options for looser, more relaxed fits, such as button-through polos or oversized styles, catering to different preferences and trends.
When it comes to outfit ideas, polo shirts offer endless possibilities. They can be paired with layered looks to add a pop of color or pattern, or they can be incorporated into tonal ensembles for a minimalist and sophisticated look. Polo shirts can be tucked in or untucked, depending on the desired level of formality, and they can be worn with shorts, jeans, chinos, or even tailored trousers.
In summary, the polo shirt is a versatile and timeless garment that has evolved from its sporty origins to become a fashion staple for men. With various fabric options, styles, and fits available, it can be dressed up or down to suit any occasion. From casual to formal, the polo shirt offers limitless possibilities for stylish and effortless outfits.