A Brief History of Embroidered Polo Shirts

Up until about 1933, thick long-sleeve shirts, which included a button down collar, made of Oxford-cloth cotton were the shirt of choice of polo players.

The button down collar came about when John Brooks (of Brooks Brothers) was visiting England. Whist at a polo match, he noticed that the collars of the players shirts flapped in the wind. He decided that this needed to be addressed so the manufacture of a shirt with button down collars started around 1896. Brooks Brothers still produce this style of shirt today.

Around 1920, a polo player and haberdasher by the name of Lewis Lacey started manufacturing embroidered polo shirts. The logo used was of a polo player. The design came from the now famous Hurlingham Polo Club of Buenos Aires. However, due to the type of cloth used, this type of shirt is not comfortable when used for sporting activities.

This type of garment was also used by the tennis players of the day, including Rene Lacoste. Around 1926 Lacoste, a 7 times grand slam winner, decided that he had had enough of wearing the uncomfortable attire. He produced his own shirt which consisted of a white, loosely-knit piqué cotton shirt with short-sleeves, an unstarched, flat, protruding collar, a buttoned placket, and a longer shirt-tail in back than in front. Lacoste called the cotton weave jersey petit piqué. Lacoste wore his version of at the US Open Championship in 1926.
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By the 1930’s, the Polo fraternity had become aware of Rene Lacoste’s new garment. Because the shirt was so much more comfortable to wear than their existing shirts, they quickly took to wearing the shirt for polo.

In 1933, the Chemise Lacoste company was formed by Lacoste and a clothing merchant friend André Gillier, after retiring from professional tennis. The Chemise Lacoste company marketed embroidered polo shirts in North America and Europe. As part of their branding, the now famous crocodile logo was embroidered on the left breast of the shirt.

By the 1950’s, the term ‘Polo Shirt’ was in common use in America which was the Lacoste design. Although tennis had used this design before the Polo teams, it was, and still is, referred to as the polo shirt.

In the 1970’s, Ralph Lauren introduced his line of shirts. The polo shirt played a prominent part in this line. The garment that Ralph Lauren introduced was not meant specifically for use by polo players but for use by the wider public. He also introduced the now famous logo ‘polo player and pony’ embroidered polo shirts.

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