How To Wear A Polo Shirt – With Confidence
Chances are, in some corner of your wardrobe, there’s a few polo shirts hanging around – and rightly so. This fashion staple is ideal in many ways, straddling that grey area between a shirt and a T-shirt – not to shabby, but not too smart either.
Yet, despite the polo shirts versatility, it hasn’t always been given the style credit it deserves. Perhaps because some people still associate them with old gym uniforms, frat boys or retail workers.
But polo shirts are so much more, especially when worn the right way.
They’re also great summer wear, cool enough to let in that warm breeze, yet with enough coverage to let you know you’re wearing something “proper”. And unlike a shirt, it’s easy and convenient to wear, you simply slip it over your head and go.
But aside from the convenience they offer, polo shirts can be stylish – yes stylish. If you scoffed at that statement, then let me show you how to wear polo shirts – the dapper way.
Let’s get to it!
What is a polo shirt?
In my time, I’ve heard a few people refer to a polo shirt as a “T-shirt”. I don’t know why, but it rankles me. But before we get into the difference between a polo shirt and a t-shirt, let’s define what a polo shirt actually is.
A polo shirt is a short sleeved shirt, with a placket neckline and three buttons. It usually has a pocket at the front, but this is not standard.
Polo shirts are often made with knitted cotton, but can also come in fabrics like; merino wool, silk, synthetic fibers, or synthetic natural blends.
And the difference between a polo shirt and t shirt?
The main difference is the design and to a lesser degree the function, such as:
- T-shirts don’t have collars or the standard 3 buttons beneath the collar which polo shirts have
- Polo shirts are made from knitted cloth, whereas T-shirts are made with woven cloth
- While polo shirts can be worn as semi formal wear, T-shirts are most definitely casual wear.
Polo shirt history
It’s not entirely clear when the polo shirt was actually invented. Some say it was at the end of the 19th century when a “polo like” shirt was worn by British aristocrats. These shirts – or polo shirts (for lack of a better word) could be long or short sleeved and looked more like buttoned down sports shirts than the polo shirts we know today.
Often worn by people involved in horse related sports, the shirts were made of rugged material and included button down collars. A button down collar is what distinguished the polo shirt, this ensured that the collars didn’t flap about when the rider was on horseback.
Fast forward to the early 20th century, and the polo shirt we know today has taken the sporting world by storm. Fed up with wearing over starched, badly fitted tennis whites (a type of sportswear), Rene Lacoste decided to take matters into his own hands. The Grand slam tennis champion designed a short sleeve, loose fitting, white cotton shirt. Unlike the old tennis whites, the collar was un-starched and the knit was breathable and – more importantly – offered greater flexibility.
The “tennis shirt” – as it was named then, was popular with many other types of sportsmen, but more so with polo players. Lacoste’s short-sleeve shirt had such strong connections to them, that even the tennis players began calling the tennis shirt a polo shirt.
Whether the birth of the polo shirt was back with the British aristocrats at the end of the 19th century or with Lacoste, the jury is still out. However, there is no denying the impact polo shirts made in sportswear, so much so that it and the name Lacoste are still widely recognized today.
How to wear a polo shirt – what to look for
It doesn’t matter how good the polo shirt looks on the rack, if it leaves you looking like a sack of spuds then it’s not gonna work. The fit is everything – never forget that. Here are 3 main points to look for:
The sleeves: The seam of your polo shirt should lay against the shoulder bone. Ideally, the sleeves should be two-thirds of the way down your biceps and be slim fit. Why does this matter? Mainly because a shorter sleeve looks a little outdated. Longer is fine, but if you want to stay classic, and make the most of the polo shirt look, half way down the bicep is optimal.
The length: A polo shirt should go a little beyond your waistband, but should not trail below your fly area. I cannot stress this enough, polo shirts are not meant to go past the fly or stop mid thigh – this just looks messy. If you happen to be a man under 5’9″, you may find that many polo shirts run a little long on you. There’s the option of getting this adjusted or just finding a polo shirt that is length appropriate.
The Fit: Regardless of body type, a polo shirt should never be baggy or too loose fitting, like in the image above. For the best look, the polo shirt should fit snugly to your body — but without being overly tight. It’s also okay for it to be tighter around the chest and arms, just make sure there’s enough room to place a few fingers under the sleeves.
Types of Polo Shirts
Lightweight Polos – Pima Cotton Polos
Polos can come in lighter weight cotton like Pima cotton. Feel wise, this is a very smooth fabric and soft to the touch, the resulting polo shirt is more akin to a t-shirt than a classic polo.
Long sleeve polo shirts
As the name suggests, this is a polo shirt with, you’ve guessed it, longer sleeves. Long sleeve polo shirts, means that this shirt – which is usually associated with summer – can easily be worn in the colder seasons.
On occasion, long sleeve polos may come with original features such as button sleeve cuffs or button down collars.
Short sleeve polo shirt
Been working out? Then show off those guns with a short sleeve polo. This design is timeless and works well paired with jeans or chinos. Dress this up by adding some loafers, or keep it casual with sneakers and jeans.
Golf polo shirts
Usually designed with short sleeves for greater ease of movement, the golf polo shirt is built for sportswear (although it can be worn at any time). Golf polos are often made from fabric that has plenty of stretch in it, along with temperature control. Use for sports, or occasions when you need to work up a sweat without looking like you’re working up a sweat.
How to wear a polo shirt
What to wear over a polo shirt
So you want to wear your polo shirt, but maybe the weathers not so great, or you simply want to stylize your attire a little more. Well, one of the benefits of sitting somewhere between smart and casual, is that the polo shirt can work with quite a few looks.
Tired of stepping out in your old Jeans and T-shirt? Then try pairing your polo shirt with your best denim jacket. This look is still casual, but adds an original flair to the old classic.
For moments when you need to smarten your look up, you should know that polo shirts go extremely well with a nice sports jacket or blazer. Try contrasting the polo shirt you wear with your jacket. So, if you’re wearing a dark blue or black jacket, instead of white, add a splash of color, like red or even orange.
How to wear a polo shirt with jeans
Want to know what to wear with a polo shirt? Then get out the denim. Polo shirts and jeans are match made in heaven – they just work. For cooler days, team a pair of dark blue jeans with a long sleeved polo shirt.
For something a little more different and eye catching, wear some white jeans with a camel colored polor shirt. This look, while casual, is still pretty sharp
Matching dark polo shirts with dark jeans is fine too, just as long as there is an accent color in the sleeves – like white or red, to offset the block of dark color – as in the image.
Polo shirt with sweatpants
Keep it relaxed and cool by combining polo shirts with sweatpants. This gives your whole look an instant casual vibe and is great for occasions where you want to look good, but without any extra effort. Complete your look with low-top sneakers, a cap and a canvas bag. To avoid looking sloppy, keep the sweatpants clean, simple and neutral (no distracting patterns or logos) and experiment with brighter polo shirt colors – like yellow..
Want more tips? Check out our guide on How to iron a polo shirt – 5 secrets for easy ironing
Final Polo Shirt Do’s and Don’ts
Don’t worry about buttons: While you’re free to button that polo shirt up to the top, there’s really no need. For a look that’s a little more on trend and relaxed, leave it unbuttoned.
Don’t wear your collar up – ever: It’s not cool, it’s not clever, and you’re not the Fonz, so let’s leave it down shall we?
Don’t tuck your polo into your shorts: Not only does it look a little too preppy, tucking also has a habit of adding bulk around the mid section. Stay untucked or, if you really can’t resist, a french tuck will be fine.
Don’t wear too many logos: The best way to wear polo shirts is to keep it clean and classy, so logos and garish designs are a big no no. The impression you should be giving off is of a stylish man about town, and not a walking billboard.
Do start layering polo shirts with jackets: Polo shirts work well with layers, so experiment with jackets such as bombers or even a sports jacket.
Do buy polos in neutral colors: Yes, polo shirts come in an array of designs and colors, but you’ll get more wear out of the neutral colors. If you want to inject some color into the polo shirt, look for ones with a contrasting color on the sleeves.
Do keep it fitted…but not tight. Polo shirts are one of the best shirts to wear fitted because they are designed to be worn this way. It should drape over the body nicely, without clinging to every nook and cranny.