It’s the king of “hybrid” clothing ― a bit extravagant, but with an almost magical power to become a “classic.” Yes, you got it, we’re talking about the polo shirt; that perfect mix between a t-shirt and a button-down. It has the softness and comfort of a t-shirt, but the elegance of a button-down, with a collar, buttons, and sometimes, pockets.
“A casual clothing icon, with classic style written in its DNA, the polo shirt has an incomparable versatility.”
It is no accident that the polo shirt comes from the sporting world, melded from polo clothing (at the end of the 19th century polo players dressed wore long-sleeved shirts with a collar and buttons) and tennis (in 1926 during a US Open match, René Lacoste, the famous French champion, impressed opponents and audiences by being the first to wear a polo-style shirt).
The secret of the polo shirt lies in its breathable fabric, the cotton piqué mixed with the formal characteristics of classic shirts. Even after a century, this is still its strong point.
“And the evolution was slight: small, imperceptible variations that barely deviated from René Lacoste’s first polo shirt.”
In Italy, the success of polo shirts is closely related to famous Italian brands, which in turn, inspired a lot of international sports and fashion brands. One inspiration, in particular, was Adriano Panatta, the 70’s tennis phenomenon and “King” of Italian tennis.
Panatta was the first player from outside the soccer world to become a national hero, with a huge following (almost a superstar level of popularity) and the first Italian to win some of the most important tennis trophies. Half model from a romance novel (which were very popular in the ‘70s), and half high-class Roman icon, he perfectly embodied the ideal Italian man.
“In those years everybody wanted a ‘Panatta-style’ cowlick, or a pair of ‘Panatta-style’ shoes. But, most of all, everybody wanted ‘Panatta-style’ polo shirts.”
For Panatta, his polo shirts were not just comfortable when he played, they were also his signature look off of the playing field. With a suit jacket, his polo shirt became an emblem of his glamorous life.
His polo shirts were also symbolic. For example, during the Davis Cup final match, played in Chile, he wore a red polo shirt to symbolize Pinochet’s bloody dictatorship. He wrote in his autobiography:
“Freshly dry-cleaned, and red, definitely red. So red that my tennis doubles partner, Paolo Bertolucci, said, ‘Fine, I’ll wear it, but you are definitely crazy.’”
And he was definitely crazy, but in a good way. Self-confident, complex, and charismatic, he never stopped wearing his beloved polo shirts, even after he retired from tennis at 33 years old.
See, polo shirts really can work for anyone. And they are always useful. Classic ones are ideal for the workplace ― bold colors are fine but only when combined with neutrals. Striped polos command respect, but only should be worn in very casual situations.
“It’s a matter of self-confidence, such as Panatta’s. Confidence in the Panatta-style.”