From the regal polo turf of the Kings of Manipur to the immaculately mown courts at the West Side Tennis Club, New York City, the polo shirt first came to prominence in the domain of sporting aristocracy. John E. Brooks of Brooks Brothers had gone some way to starting the polo shirt revolution by inventing the original Oxford cotton button-down, but it wasn’t until French tennis star of the 1920s, Jean René Lacoste, saw his friend the 5th Marquess of Cholmondeley wearing a polo shirt, that the design we recognize today was first mooted.
Up until this point, most tennis players competed wearing starched long-sleeved shirts (and tie) on occasion, which oozed sophisticated glamour, but it could be cumbersome in the heat during long sets. Lacoste, after analysing Cholmondeley’s polo shirt iteration, immediately saw its benefits in negating the attire’s restrictive nature.
Lacoste commissioned an English tailor to make up a few samples to his own design, some in wool, others in lightweight, breathable cotton known as ‘jersey petit pique’. Lacoste himself first wore one in 1926 at the US Open, and it caused a sensation. The design itself was still extremely smart. It had a soft ribbed collar, to prevent chaffing, but one stiff enough that it could be worn turned up to protect the back of the neck.