How the polo became an American classic

In fashion, as in life, the more things change, the more they stay the same. In a context of changing tastes and values, the Ralph Lauren polo shirt has remained a constant in American style for 50 years.

Since its introduction, in 1972, the little shirt that could – a wardrobe mainstay that Lauren described as “the most democratic of garments, as ubiquitous as jeans” – has been interpreted in a kaleidoscope of hues, as well only in classic, tall, skinny and high fashion cuts. (There’s even a version for the yuppie pup in your life.) The iconic polo shirt logo, a flourishing design that first appeared on a women’s bespoke shirt in 1971, has also been rendered in a host of colors and sizes.

John F. Kennedy Jr. in Hyannis Harbor, 1980s.

New York Press Service/Paul Adao.

Gigi Hadid in a tangerine polo shirt, 2019.


Like a huge new book, Ralph Lauren polo shirt (Rizzoli), the illustrious, this humble garment, inspired by one of the most elite sports, has become everything for everyone. It’s a badge of the new preppy cosmopolitanism, but it’s equally beloved by rappers, royalty, and everyday people alike. In the more than 400 photographs of the book, we see the shirt worn with the same ease by Ronald Reagan, Gigi Hadid and Spike Lee.

The classic fit knitted polo shirt for women.

Courtesy of Ralph Lauren.

“I think that’s exactly what makes the polo shirt so appealing,” says David Lauren, son of Ralph and director of brand and innovation at Ralph Lauren, who notes that the polo shirt can be dressed up or down, or even carried with a balloon. skirt. “I think people feel like they’re part of something bigger; it’s a chance to express themselves and a way to participate in their version of the American dream. Or, as filmmaker Ken Burns raves in his elegant introduction, perfectly summing up the schismatic allure of the polo shirt: “When you wear a polo shirt, you are instantly engaged in a deep irony between being unique, but also, because so many others in the world wear it – belong.

An anonymous 17th-century watercolor from the Mughal Empire depicts an early polo match.

V&A Images, London/Art Resource, NY.

In addition to being enlisted in the service of high fashion and sports (everything from equestrian styles to tennis looks to the official uniform of the US Olympic team), over the years the mesh shirt of Sustainable cotton, part of MoMA’s permanent design collection, was deployed to reflect Lauren’s enduring interest in militaria. Inspired by the army navy surplus stores he visited as a youth, he released limited edition collections of military styles and touring shirts resembling the embroidered souvenir jackets of servicemen returning from service in Asia to the end of World War II.

In fact, so many special capsule collections have been released over the years, with crests and patches galore, that in the run up to this year’s golden anniversary, the company has released some designs for sale. vintage and collectible from its archives. “It’s such a pleasure to hear the many stories of people who have worn polo shirts and said they get better with age,” says David Lauren. “That’s one of the reasons we wanted to source some of our most unique shirts from decades past. You can show off your own vintage polo look by stepping back in time and buying the piece you always have on had an eye.

Ralph Lauren in East Hampton, circa 1977.

Courtesy of Ralph Lauren.

Collected shirts will be available on the Polo app and in select stores around the world; they will also be featured for a limited time in pop-ups in Berlin and Tokyo to coincide with the book’s release. And in true Ralph Lauren fashion, the tome is released with five different collection covers. As Lauren himself said, “Ultimately, it was never about a shirt, it was about a way of life.”

Boyz II Men, sporting oversized striped versions, 1995.

Ron Galella/Contributor.

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