The polo shirt has a history that dates way back to the 10th Century when people first affixed buttons to the top of a shirt. But the polo shirt as we know it really came into its own in the mid-1800s.
Named “polo” for its association with the sport, the shirt was popular with polo players in both Britain and India. Soon after – by the 1920s – polo shirts caught on with the public, becoming both a fashion statement and a functional way to stay cool in the heat.
Nowadays, it’s seen as an enduring statement of poise and leisure. Never out of style, it’s a perennial fixture in men’s wardrobes around the globe.
But if you want to rock a polo shirt the right way, you need to know a few things in advance: what to look for when you purchase, how to wear it, and what accessories work best.
What to Look When Shopping for a Polo Shirt
When shopping for a polo shirt, you are looking at two essential things: fit and material.
The fit of a fantastic polo shirt should balance. It shouldn’t be too tight, but it can’t be too baggy. It should have some structure, but not so much that it’s stiff. The arms shouldn’t droop, but they also should not cling tightly to the shoulder. Look for a balanced fit that works for your body type.
As for material, there’s one that stands head and shoulders above the rest. Merino wool makes the perfect polo shirt – period. The ultra-fine, breathable, sweat-wicking fabric is the ideal vehicle for the polo shirt.
Because merino wool is both breathable and insulating, it makes for a fantastic year-round choice – just as comfortable in the winter as in summer. And because merino wool is antibacterial, it makes a great travel companion; some merino wool polo shirts stay fresh weeks on end without washing (yes, weeks).
These Unbound Merino polo shirts are particularly great examples of the polo done right, merging great fit and good quality merino wool. They’re also popular with travelers, in case you’re taking your polo on the road.
How to Wear a Polo Shirt
Tucked or untucked, that is the question.
The answer, luckily, is not set in stone. As a general rule, wearers should tuck their polo in for more formal occasions, but are free to leave it untucked in casual scenarios. Golfers also tend to tuck their polos so the flowing fabric won’t affect their swing (and because many courses have dress code rules). Ultimately, the choice is yours. But if you do tuck, make sure you’ve got a good belt (more on that below).
The only hard-and-fast rule for wearing a polo is “don’t pop the collar.” That trend has passed, and it will likely never return. It didn’t look great at the time, and it looks even worse now.
As for when to wear a polo shirt, the rules are similarly lax. While you most commonly see polos in the warm months of spring and summer, they work equally as well in the fall and winter (albeit with a few added layers and accessories).
Polo shirts walk a tightrope between sophistication and leisure. They’re classy, but they’re casual. Keep that in mind as you accessorize.
A nice watch always looks terrific next to a polo; a classic combination that dates back to the polo’s early days. A pair of merino wool shorts pair well with the merino top, giving you that breezy, carefree look.
For a full-on New England University look; you could throw a sweater over your shoulders and slip on a pair of deck shoes. Loafers also work well here for footwear, as can any low-ankle shoe that you can pair with merino wool ankle socks.
For a more collegiate look, you can just toss a backward baseball cap atop your head, throw on some sandals and call it a day. Or, if you’re taking your polo shirt to work, consider pairing it with chinos, dress shoes, a well-crafted leather belt, and a simple, over-the-shoulder bag.
As summer turns into fall, find your perfect polo and partake in an age-old style tradition. Get the right material and fit by searching for a balanced, merino wool polo shirt. Wear it up or down by tucking or untucking. And then accessorize your polo shirt according to the occasion. The polo shirt is one of the most versatile articles in a man’s wardrobe, so don’t be afraid to experiment with different looks.