Polo shirt, casual with class
The game of Polo was created in Persia more than 2.500 years ago. The name comes from India where it was played with a wooden ball called in Tibetan a “pulu”. The occupying British military officers used to play polo during the Indian colonization and the sultry weather forced them to find more comfortable apparel that would help diminish perspiration . In Victorian times, proper polo attire consisted of white flannel trousers and a white tennis sweater worn over a white shirt with a straight collar to prevent the collars from flapping in the wind.
Therefore, white wool jersey shirts replaced the old polo button-down shirts. The jerseys pulled over the head, had turned-down or rolled collars, long sleeves and buttons descending five inches down the front of the collar. For decades this shirt reigned on the polo fields of Richmond Park and Hurlingham. The cut was always similar to the traditional and formal dress shirt, with a collar and three buttons, in an effort to maintain respectability. Thus, the Indian green gave birth to a new article of clothing: polo shirt. Others sports rapidly adopted the same apparel although changes were made in order to adapt the item to the different weather conditions. Within a few years long sleeved polo shirts were introduced for rugby players; the fabric was reinforced to reduce snags and increase durability.
The crocodile smash
At the turn of the last century the rules demanded that tennis be played in "tennis whites" consisting of long-sleeved white button-up shirts (worn with the sleeves rolled up), flannel trousers and ties. As one might expect, this attire presented several problems for ease of play and comfort on the court. René Lacoste, the French 7-time Grand Slam tennis champion, was very sensitive to these problems. He decided that the stiff tennis attire of the day was simply too cumbersome and uncomfortable for the tennis court. Therefore, he designed a shirt for himself basing the design on the long-sleeved polo shirt. The original Lacoste polo was made of a white Piqué knit (he called the cotton weave jersey petit piqué), with a small ribbed collar, short sleeves with ribbed bands and a slightly longer shirttail so that it would not come untucked during active sports. He first wore this shirt at the 1926 U.S. Open championship and in 1927 “the Four Musketeers” (La coste, Coche, Borotra e Brugnon) won the Davis Cup while wearing polo shirts.
The public nicknamed Lacoste “Le Crocodile”. The name may have come from the Press due to his prowess on the court, or it may have been a reference to his rather large nose. Another story is that it's from his boast to teammates, during a 1923 trip to the U.S., that when he won his matches, he would buy an expensive crocodile suitcase he had noticed in a store window. If he lost, he would not buy the bag, and in jest his teammates called him “Le Crocodile”.
An artist friend, Robert George, drew the crocodile emblem in 1926 and Lacoste had it embroidered on a blazer. Lacoste retired in 1929 and decided to market his shirt with the famous emblem. It was introduced to the public in 1933 in France, but wasn't sold in the USA until 1952. President Eisenhower began wearing the shirt for his highly publicized golf games. By the 1930's knit shirts were all the rage for men at big name resorts, and by the 1950's and 1960's they were popular for men, women and children. Another former tennis champion, the English team captain Fred Perry, who was ranked number one in 1934 and helped lead his team to victory over France in the Davis Cup of 1933, introduced his own polo shirt collection when he retired from tennis. The Fred Perry laurel logo (the old Wimbledon symbol) polo was first launched at Wimbledon in 1952. Does the name Lacoste need a trademark symbol? The polo shirt (small p, unless it’s the first word in a sentence) refers to a type of shirt, and not to the name of Ralph Lauren’s company, although Ralph Lauren/Polo does, of course, market his famous polo shirt. Nowadays polo shirts are worn by many professionals in settings where T-shirts are too casual, but formal business attire is not required. In contemporary Western fashion, polo shirts are considered more casual than woven button-front shirts while still being slightly dressy.
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