The polo shirt: A History


You’d be hard pressed to find a person who, at one point in their life, didn’t own a polo shirt — which is to say a collared shirt, featuring a placket neckline, and anywhere from 2, 3, or 4. When you think of polo shirt, what comes to mind? Growing up, I remember my own mother telling me to “put on a golf shirt” when the t-shirt I had most likely chosen for a particular occasion wasn’t up to par (forgive the pun). So, perhaps for you the polo is synonymous with golf, for others, tennis, fraternity days, but the reality is the modern polo shirt has found its place in practically every situation: from the popped-collar-polos worn by the Everly Brothers to the 70s London punk scene (and everywhere in between) — proof that there’s no wrong place (or way) to rock a polo.

The roots of the Polo shirt go back to exactly that — the sport of Polo. The earliest known origins of the sport date back to the 6th century. The contemporary, horseback iteration we know today, however, was established in 19th Century India. It was a British military outfit, after falling in love with the sport, adopted the game from Indian natives, and brought it back to the U.K. At the time, players were rocking “polo shirts” which proved to be a bit too billowy, flapping freely in the wind, which led to the inception of the button down shirt.  It was in 1933, however, when tennis star René Lacoste, whose vision for a more functional tennis uniform birthed the modern cut and framework which, by any contemporary association, IS the “polo shirt” we all know. 


I think in order for anybody to understand why the johnnie-O brand was created, they might need to know a little something about yours truly. I spent most of my time growing up on the north shore of Chicago in a town called Winnetka, a place where blue blazers, khaki pants, and “alligator” shirts were pretty much the norm. Ten years later I moved to Los Angeles to attend UCLA. Suddenly, I saw fewer blue blazers and more corduroy OP shorts. Needless to say, my penny loafers got a lot less play than my new flip flops.

Upon graduating from college, I moved back to the Midwest. But before I knew it, I was back on a plane to Los Angeles, and I haven’t looked back since.

I thought, why couldn’t there be a west coast version of the polo horse?”  


“It was the first shirt we did in the johnnie-O line. Play golf in it, wear your swimsuit with it, go to the beach. Tucked-in, or not tucked-in, it’s a very old-school look with the four-button placket, and a slightly pointy collar that hearkens back to yester-year.”