There aren’t many garments capable of both performing on the sports field and mingling at the pre-match champagne reception, but the polo shirt is one of them.
Over the past century, this smart-casual staple has transitioned from Wimbledon court to wardrobe, but not without stopping off at the odd youth subculture en route. As a result, it’s become ingrained in the very fabric of modern menswear; a fixture in every well-dressed man’s spring/summer rotation.
Part of the polo shirt’s crossover appeal is down to its versatility. It’s a garment that can work across a range of outfits and occasions, so long as it’s styled with consideration.
With that in mind, we’ve collected some of our favourite ways to wear a polo shirt to serve as a handy point of reference next time you find yourself reaching for yours.
The re-appropriation of gym gear as casualwear (often referenced as athleisure) has become the new normal in menswear over the last decade. If it doesn’t already occupy a considerable chunk of your wardrobe, it probably ought to.
The polo shirt is one of this aesthetic’s defining garments, so naturally it slots well into a variety of athleisure-based outfits. Success lies in pairing it with other sporty garments, mixing dedicated athletic wear with upscale premium pieces.
Keep the colour palette subdued and mostly monochrome, incorporating sportswear staples like fitted joggers, hoodies and track jackets. Footwear-wise, go for a streamlined technical trainer or a premium minimalist leather sneaker.
Experimenting with suit separates is a clever way to tone down tailoring while still looking sharp and swapping a smart shirt for a more relaxed polo builds on this effect. It’s a quick way to give your suiting a summery edge and is ideal for warm-weather events or even as a business-casual work outfit.
Getting the colour and contrast right is key when it comes to styling separates – and that extends to your polo shirt too. To play it safe, stick to neutrals and monochrome, but if the jacket and pants are pretty subdued, a pop of bolder colour from the polo can work nicely too.
Fit is always crucial, but particularly when it comes to tailoring. The polo shirt should fit like a glove to enable it to slot beneath your blazer without bunching up or crumpling. It should be form-fitting but never tight and the seams should align perfectly with the shoulders.
With A Suit
Nobody likes donning a suit when it’s 100 degrees outside. The problem is, it sometimes can’t be helped. When those situations arise, a well-fitting polo shirt can make an unlikely yet powerful ally.
Provided the dress code permits it, the breathable pique cotton fabric of a polo shirt can offer some respite from the heat when worn in place of a shirt. This can be a great option for events like summer weddings, where the dress code is smart, but the weather can be sweltering.
In terms of colour, there are two ways to approach this one. Firstly, you could opt for a tonal outfit. That means keeping your suit and polo shirt to different shades of the same, or similar, colours. Alternatively, you could go for contrast. To achieve this, select a polo shirt in a colour that complements your suit but doesn’t match it. Steer away from anything to punchy or bright, favouring subtle tones instead.
Sometimes the simplest of style moves have the biggest impact. Case in point: tucking your shirt in. It might sound basic – and it is – but this quick move has the power to completely alter the feel of an outfit. Use it to your advantage.
This Ivy League-approved twist on the T-shirt tuck can turn what is seemingly a pedestrian outfit into something much more individual and considered. Just make sure your polo shirt fits like a dream to avoid excess fabric billowing over the top of your pants.
The best approach in terms of styling is to stick with the theme of simplicity. If you can drop the belt, great. If not, make sure it’s understated and plain. Keep accessories to the bare minimum and the colour palette subtle. Chinos and dress pants are both good options legwear-wise, or swap them for tailored shorts if the weather’s on your side.
Sadly, you probably aren’t spending your weekend sipping Aperol spritz and grazing on charcuteries in Portofino. Still, don’t let that stop you from dressing like you are. Those Italians know a thing or two about classy nonchalant style and a crisp white polo shirt has long been one of their weapons of choice.
Embracing a bit of Riviera cool is never a bad move when it comes to your summer wardrobe and adding a polo shirt into the mix keeps things nice and casual. Classic pique cotton is the obvious choice but don’t ignore knitted options for something a little more sophisticated. A zip collar is great for adding a contemporary twist too.
Moving south, legwear should be smart, but not too smart. Think pleated trousers or chinos. Italian men are partial to a pair of white pants but just take it easy on the gesticulating if you happen to have a glass of Barolo in hand. As for footwear? Loafers or deck shoes every time.
Keep It Simple
The best thing about a polo shirt? Probably the fact that it doesn’t require much thought to make one look good. It’s the sort of garment that makes it look like you’ve put a bit of thought into an outfit even if you haven’t. An upgrade on the T-shirt, but still nice and relaxed.
This is why one of the best things you can do when styling a polo shirt is to take things back to basics. Pairing one with shorts, chinos or jeans and your favourite summer footwear is a recipe for easy, timeless style.
All there really is to think about is texture and colour. Use these two elements to keep a simple outfit from straying into boring territory. That said, a muted palette is always a safe bet, just be thoughtful in your colour matching to keep things interesting.