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  • The history of the polo shirt
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    The history of the polo shirt

    The humble polo shirt might be everyday workwear but its origins are anything but!
The history of the polo shirt

A long history

The polo shirt is one of the most popular workwear garments of our time. The classic design we know today comprises a collar, a placket neckline with two or three buttons and an optional pocket. They are usually made of a piqué knitted cotton (rather than woven cloth) but this wasn’t always the case. The polo shirt has a long history that’s been influenced by cultures, sports and people over centuries.

1800s: Classic design; Indian origin image

1800s: Classic design; Indian origin

It’s thought that in the early 19th century after being stationed in Manipur, India, the British military introduced a variation on the polo shirt to the UK. They were inspired by the dress shirts of Indian aristocrats who wore striped, hip-length, round-neck jerseys. In Britain, it soon became synonymous with royalty and the upper class, featuring among polo players as a long-sleeved cotton shirt.

1890s: Americans introduce button-down collars image

1890s: Americans introduce button-down collars

One downside to the shirt was the collar flapped as polo players rode around. John E. Brooks of the American apparel company Brooks Brothers noticed that players fastened them with pins or buttons when he visited England in the late 1800s. On returning to the States, he introduced button-down collars onto all his dress shirts, introducing the first mass-marketed button-down polo shirt in 1896.

1920s: French popularise the polo in tennis

1920s: French popularise the polo in tennis

The piqué polo shirt that we know today is influenced more by the tennis court than the polo ground. A short-sleeved version with a top row of buttons and a collar was first designed for playing tennis in France in 1929 by tennis star René Lacoste. His design in classic white was initially intended only for himself so he decorated it with an embroidered crocodile over the left breast, reflecting his nickname. However, in the 1930s, his design sparked massive interest and the Lacoste polo shirt soon became a well-established article of clothing. In 1933, after retiring from professional tennis, Lacoste teamed up with André Gillier to market the shirt across Europe and North America.

1970s: Rise of athleisure

1970s: Rise of athleisure

In 1972, the first polo piqué by Polo Ralph Lauren was launched. This had a small embroidered polo player on the left chest and it quickly achieved similar cult status to the Lacoste design. The Ralph Lauren polo shirt is now one of the most famous polo shirts in the world.

The history of the polo shirt

How we help

Smart yet casual, the polo shirt offers the ideal choice for summer uniforms in a range of industries. At HeathBrook, we brand polo shirts in house to your company logo to ensure you get the best quality garments tailored to your needs.  Contact us to see how we can help.