Pseudo-statistically speaking, the polo shirt is one of the wardrobe staples least likely to heat up men’s clothing below the collar. It’s a quiet, safe, and reliable background player, but rarely enough to get excited about.
Well, it turns out that the polo shirt was not getting along quietly at all: it was transforming for a triumphant comeback. So, forget about the solid quilts and your numbered deer slogan, the polo shirt has made a serious change in shape and is now eager to infiltrate every aspect of your wardrobe. Again.
“The polo shirt has become a shortcut for lazy, thoughtless styling in recent years,” says Paul Higgins, a menswear stylist who has worked with brands like Reiss, Diesel and Aquascutum. “Now, however, more thoughtful design options mean that wearing a polo shirt is no longer an unimaginative sartorial choice.”
Here are seven ways to wear a polo shirt without causing sartorial narcolepsy.
Losing the buttons
Unless you are part of an independent tribute group, your polo shirt collar should be open by default. Confusingly, the open neck polo shirt is not a style gesture, it is fashion talking about a design without any button on the collar. The beauty of this simple modification is that the subtraction of these fixing gear prevents the polo shirt from emitting bachelor party vibrations. You’ve got a good dose of Riviera style left.
Pair an open neck polo shirt with chinos and loafers and you’ll live your best old-fashioned Jetsetter life. Stick one on with lightly washed jeans and high tops and you riff on the normcore with the most subtle nod to the club’s menswear.
To keep things crisp when you wear them, look for open-necked styles with a slim fit, you think. The collar will sag if your polo shirt contains too much fabric.
Mix and match with a costume
In the age of athleisure, the poor old costume has taken a little trouble in the popularity stakes. But a polo shirt is just what it takes to give couture a new touch of metaphorical paint.
“Taken individually, the suit and the polo shirt are fairly standard elements of a man’s clothing line, but together they are a classic example of how using your existing pieces in an inventive way can be rewarded,” explains Higgins.
Taking advantage of these benefits is quite simple. Starting with a navy, gray, or black suit, simply wear a polo shirt in place of your shirt and tie. It’s also hard to go wrong with the color, as a tone-on-tone polo shirt that mimics your suit hue will work just as easily as a contrasting pattern.
If you want to take it a step further, make sure your pants, polo shirt, and blazer all bring something different to the table. “Try teaming cream pants, a taupe blazer and a khaki green polo shirt, then slip on brown horsebit loafers for a chic but stylish summer look.”
Look for stripes
If the amount of shiny retina-burning men’s clothing currently in circulation is anything to say, minimalism is dead. This means that, yes, the polo shirts have also received the anti-subtlety treatment with many designs loudly announcing their presence.
“Bold polo shirts offer a unisex bag, but pick the right one and your outfit will be noticed for all the right reasons,” says Higgins. Fortunately, the prescription here is clear: vertical stripes are your most reliable bet. “Bold striped polo shirts are just what it takes to spark interest and can be paired with chinos, jeans, sneakers and moccasins without much effort.
Those who are worried about looking like a kid’s TV presenter should go for a maximum of two colors on their polo shirt, while the bravest should try a three-color design. Next, to make sure you’re discouraging optical acrobatics, wear a pair of unassuming daddy jeans and simple white sneakers.
To exceed the limits
In the summer, almost everyone has a little more glow: we’re talking tan, no sticky foreheads to be clear. As a result, this is the perfect window of opportunity to lighten up your polo game (and everything in between).
Start with a gray, white, or stone polo shirt, then instead of instinctively anchoring the look with dark pants, try stone, cream or white chinos underneath, then park your feet in sleek leather sneakers.
As a general rule of thumb, the darker your skin tone, the lighter the tones you can achieve, so you’ll need to take this into account when choosing a polo shirt. If you are paler and want to wear a white polo shirt paired with light undertones, a pair of sable chinos will add enough contrast to the proceedings.
Pair with folds
Although used and abused by vacationers and bachelor parties, the polo shirt has been a classic in men’s fashion for generations. You can easily rekindle some of that mid-century appeal by recruiting a pair of pleated pants for your cause.
“Wearing a polo shirt with pleated pants refers to some of the big names in menswear like Cary Grant and Fred Astaire,” Higgins explains. “Tucked into pleated pants, the polo shirt shakes up its reputation as the lazy man’s go-to item.
However, you’re not home and dry yet: this polo-style move requires proper care to keep you from pairing up with your grandpa. Make sure you choose pleated pants that lean to the thinnest side, go for a polo shirt with some design interest (textured, slub weave, or print), and choose sneakers over smart shoes.
Try the terry towel
The terrycloth polo shirt is nothing new. In fact, it’s up there with pork pie hats and suspenders: it’s decidedly old school. Despite this, an inexplicable decline in popularity since its heyday has made it ripe for the picking of a new generation of men.
While this is essentially a polo-shaped towel, the design has more class and pedigree than your average aristocrat. For you, that means a stupidly simple way to improve your act without really trying.
The beauty of the terrycloth polo shirt is that it loves simplicity. Pair a pale pink design with solid color shorts (navy or white) and leather sandals and you’ll make the vacation outfit feel like it’s not a complete nightmare to do well.
Choose the piping
Thanks in no small part to the world’s youngest style influencer, Prince George, piping (once exclusive to school uniforms) has reappeared in the vernacular of menswear and has given polo shirts a much needed dose of adrenaline.
“Although this is a fairly straightforward concept, the piping at the collar and cuffs of your polo shirt has a big impact on the wardrobe,” Higgins explains. “A nod to old-fashioned style, the piping will simultaneously enhance off-duty looks and allow you to stand out in a sea of identity dressers. “
Better yet, piped polo shirts know how to be fun to play, so they will go as easily with shorts as with jeans and can be worn tucked in or not tucked in as you see fit. Choose a navy blue or white style to riff on a familiar style.