The polo shirt is perhaps one of the most misunderstood garments in modern menswear. This soft-collared, short-sleeved top has had something of a bad rap in recent years – shunned by many for its alleged “uncoolness” and lack of discernible stylish outfit applications.
It would, however, be a crying shame to deny this classic piece a place in your wardrobe. The relaxing of dress codes in recent years has afforded the polo a new chance to shine. Now this sporting staple is just as at home worn alongside tailoring on a date night as it is with shorts to a summer gathering.
The polo shirt is officially back, meaning now is a good time to start sourcing your own. But before you do, here’s everything you need to know about one of the most surprisingly versatile garments a man can own, including where it came from and which brands are making the finest options.
What Makes A Great Polo Shirt?
When it comes to shopping for the perfect polo, there are a few things to be considered. Not all polo shirts are created equal, and it pays to know what to look for if you want to end up with a good one.
First and foremost, the fit is crucial: a polo shirt should be slim fitting but not tight; the shoulder seams should sit at the point where arm meets torso; the collar should be comfortable when fastened up to the last button; and the hem should sit just above the hips.
Fabric is important, too. Pique cotton should be soft and stretchy – never scratchy. If you’re going for a knitted version, it should be of a very fine gauge and feel soft to the touch.
Sizing varies greatly from brand to brand. Lacoste, for example, works on a numbered system, so make sure you know your size before pulling the trigger.
The Best Polo Shirt Brands
There are many brands out there putting their name to the humble polo shirt. Here we detail the ones doing the best job.
Swedish brand ASKET lives up to the Scandi stereotype by offering a stripped-back, minimalist menswear collection that you can build capsule wardrobe around. As you’d imagine, the polo shirt sits right in this remit, with the label offering a simple choice: do you want short or long sleeves?
Both versions are crafted using a substantial organic pique cotton knit, which drapes perfectly thanks to its straight cut and a neat three-button French placket. Meanwhile a fine rib collar and mother of pearl buttons prove that no element has been overlooked or scrimped on.
Having first been launched in 2016 and now on their 5th generation, the brand has arguably now achieved perfection.
Shop now at ASKET
Although based in Amsterdam, Aurelien is a champion of timeless Mediterranean style. Oozing the relaxed elegance and carefree joie-de-vivre of the Riviera, it’s polos are cut slim in a variety of high-end materials, ranging from terry towelling and Egyptian cotton to 100% linen and extrafine merino wool.
Coming in summer-ready pastels and bold primary hues, they’re an essential addition to any refined gent’s resortwear arsenal.
Shop now at Aurelien
Vilebrequin has been producing luxury resortwear since 1971, and from the very beginning it’s always placed great emphasis on fabric and fit. Its range of polo shirts is no exception, crafted using the highest quality fabrics including cotton, linen and Tencel.
The French brand has become renowned for its unique prints and vivid colourways, but whether you go for something loud or understated, these are some of the best luxury polos on the market. There’s a reason they’re a common sight in high-end resorts across the Riviera.
Shop now at Vilebrequin
The Resort Co
Sustainable, ethical production is at the heart of everything The Resort Co does, with each garment handcrafted by skilled artisans working in small, family-owned factories dotted around Italy, Spain and Portugal.
When it comes to polos, the Swedish brand offers a small but perfectly curated selection. There’s an open collar terry cloth design that’s ideal for lounging around the pool in the height of summer, and a knitted version crafted from 100% GOTS certified organic cotton that comes in both long- and short-sleeve format to see you through every season.
Shop now at The Resort Co
There’s only one thing better than a classic polo shirt, and that’s a luxurious, Italian-made polo shirt, crafted from the finest pique cotton. Sound good? Well, that’s exactly what you’ll get if you choose to take your money to Luca Faloni.
There are short-sleeved and long-sleeved options available, and the fabric choices don’t end at traditional pique. If you fancy something a bit different, you can pick from linen-jersey and silk-cotton too.
Buy now at Luca Faloni
Polo Ralph Lauren
The polo shirt was already well established by the time Ralph Lauren (featured image, top) started including it in collections. However, the East Coast outfitter’s knack for preppy styling and collegiate cool thrust it even further into the spotlight.
For a long time now the polo has been one of Ralph Lauren’s staple items, so much so that an entire line has been created around the theme.
Buy now at SSENSE
For summer jaunts, whether to the Italian coast or a pub beer garden, knitted polos are always high on our agenda. Often constructed from a wool or cotton-blend, which helps smarten up the style, they give off a mid-century vibe that works well with pleated chinos, shorts or jeans as well as loafers and minimal sneakers.
Knowing this well, Percival produces one of the best collections of knitted polos on the market, with designs ranging from colourful stripes to tonal prints and everything in between.
Buy now at Percival
British heritage brand Fred Perry is so much more than just a tennis clothing company. This is a label that has underpinned countless youth subcultures, becoming nothing short of iconic in the process.
The Fred Perry polo shirt isn’t just a sporting staple, but a counter-culture icon. Uniform for the mods, punks, skinheads and beyond, it’s a garment steeped in history and a valuable asset in any man’s wardrobe.
Buy now at END.
A Day’s March
What is a polo shirt if not a timeless essential? And what is A Day’s March if not one of the best brands in the world when it comes to procuring that sort of thing?
With its elevated take on classic wardrobe basics, the Scandi brand is a one-stop shop for your daily essentials, polo shirts included. Expect a more refined take on this summer staple, reimagined in premium, tactile fabrics like merino and terry cloth and ethically produced to the highest standard.
Buy now at A Day’s March
Heavily influenced by the laid-back vibes of America’s West Coast, James Perse’s unique knack for merging casual styling with luxury is unmatched.
Known for his high-end, plain T-shirts and other premium staples, the polo shirt makes an obvious addition to Perse’s squeaky clean seasonal collections.
Buy now at James Perse
Rene Lacoste’s eponymous label has been instrumental in getting the polo shirt to where it is today.
The French brand’s crocodile logo has become emblematic of crisp, European cool and slick, sporty style. The original, arguably the best and an undeniable must-have item for any self-respecting stylish gent.
Buy now at END.
Using their signature blend of classic and contemporary, high-street favourite Reiss manages brings the timeless polo bang up to date via modern fabrications and detailing such as zipped and open collars.
The British brand’s knitted and patterned designs are particularly noteworthy and help lift the polo into statement piece territory.
Buy now at Reiss
Poolside hasn’t always been the easiest place to make a style statement. But Orlebar Brown’s brand of luxury resortwear has made the whole thing a lot easier.
The British label’s simple yet stylish polos allow for maximum beach-to-bar potential. Smart enough for an evening drink, yet relaxed enough for a stroll along the shoreline.
Buy now at Orlebar Brown
Japanese retailer Uniqlo is renowned for its fabrications, using their manufacturing capabilities and substantial buying power to offer high-end materials for a fraction of the cost of luxury brands. You can expect supremely comfortable pique cotton, sophisticated merino wool, sweat-wicking Dry-Ex, and their trademark odour-neutralising, quick-drying Airism fabric.
And the best part? All of these can be had for under £35. Stock up.
Buy now at Uniqlo
From rock ‘n’ roll royalty to James Bond himself, John Smedley has long been kitting the style elite out in some of the finest knitwear money can buy.
Why then are you reading about it in a roundup of polo shirts? Well, the British outfitter’s output doesn’t end at cardigans and crew necks, there are also some tailoring-friendly knitted versions on offer, too. Expect fine-gauge knits, premium materials and a form-hugging fit that is second to none.
Buy now at FarFetch
Sometimes less really is more, and no label offers more concrete evidence of this than Sunspel.
The British basics brand has carved out a niche for itself as the premier purveyor of stripped-back luxury – the simple things done well. And polo shirts are certainly no exception.
Buy now at MATCHESFASHION
King Of Cashmere, Brunello Cucinelli made a name for himself crafting colourful sweaters. Today, his namesake label is recognised for its ultra-luxe aesthetic, stylish suiting and upscale casual wear.
The latter is where the polo shirt finds its natural home. Cucinelli’s polos are unrivalled when it comes to luxury – boasting high-end fabrication and construction, slick cuts and a healthy dose of Italian flair.
Buy now at FarFetch
History Of The Polo Shirt
Perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly, the polo shirt has its roots in the horseback sport from which it takes its name. In the 1920s pique-cotton shirts became popular for playing polo, but the garment as we know it today also has tennis to thank.
Legendary French tennis star René Lacoste found traditional tennis whites to be too stiff and restrictive. So he set about on a mission to create a top that would still look the part while being comfortable enough to play his best game. The result was a short-sleeved shirt with an unstarched, flat, protruding collar, a buttoned placket and a shirt-tail longer at the back than the front. He first wore it at the 1926 US Open and it has been popular ever since.
In the years that have passed, many other brands and designers have made the polo shirt a staple piece in their collections, further cementing its place in menswear.