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Love it or hate it, the polo shirt has cemented its role in fashion and pop culture — evoking images of WASPy jocks, prep school suck-ups, Best Buy employees and old-moneyed yacht owners across America.
Ralph Lauren, who helped propel the silhouette from a practical sport shirt (worn by tennis, golf and polo players alike), to an everyday wardrobe staple, is retiring from his Polo-branded empire this year. And as sad as it is to see the fashion legend hang his equestrian-inspired hat, I say it’s time to retire the polo shirt with him.
I know I’m not the only one who finds this casual take on the collared shirt to be a bit offensive. Maybe not as bad as sneakers with dress pants or baggy pants worn low enough to show your boxers ... but about as offensive as a single item of men’s clothing can be.
The polo wearer has been made fun of on TV (Blake’s triple polo in “Wet Hot American Summer,” we’re looking at you) and in the movies (Steve Carell’s character in “The 40-Year Old Version” sports a polo shirt in allof the movie posters. As does his pre-makeover character in "Crazy, Stupid, Love." See a pattern here?). And the '80s popped-collar polo will forever be seen as the ultimate in obnoxious yuppie styling.
Furthermore, a writer for Real Simple magazine recently cited the polo shirt as a dating dealbreaker — until she discovered that her own personal McDreamy had a closet full of them. But you can always change the way your man dresses, right?
Well, maybe not. My cousin and her fiancé approached me the other day, just as I was about to head to the airport for a flight home. “We need your opinion,” my cousin explained. As I prepared to dole out wedding advice, I was surprised to hear her ask, “What do you think of Robert’s shirt? Can you explain to him that he can’t wear these polo shirts anymore, please?”
While the middle of their relationship is quite literally the last place I want to be, I couldn’t help but (silently) agree with my cousin. Polo shirts belong back in the frat house or exclusively on the golf course, polo field or tennis court where their practical nature can be put to good use. So, unless you are literally picking up a mallet, tennis racket or golf club right now, delve deeper in your closet and find something else to wear. Polo shirts may be the uniform of choice for The Sport of Kings (aka, horse racing), but it’s unacceptable for a family dinner, the office or Sunday brunch.
For most guys, polo shirts look dorky when tucked in and sloppy if they’re untucked. They're a lose-lose. A status symbol of sorts, they hint at a well-to-do life — an aura that Ralph Lauren himself helped create through years of savvy brand building. But the truth is, they just don’t look very good on most men. Too casual to be dressy and too sporty to be stylish, polo shirts remain a symbol of Lauren’s legacy but I propose we omit them in fashion’s future.