The Common Thread of a Polo, Tennis and Golf Shirts

A tennis shirt is actually what most people are referring to when they say “polo shirt” or “golf shirt.” These are a type of t-shirt that has a collar, two or three buttons down the front slit, and two side slits on the bottom. They often come with a chest pocket and made from such fine fabrics as; knitted pique cotton, merino wool, and silk.

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Rene Lacoste, a 7-time tennis Grand Slam winner from France, is credited as the first person to create the tennis shirt when he introduced his shirt design in 1929 Comme des Garcons. The idea of creating the shirt came to Lacoste because the tennis apparel up to that time consisted of long-sleeved shirts, trousers and ties. The clothes worn by tennis players on the tennis court during the 19th and early 20th centuries were more appropriate for offices. Besides, the dress shirts worn on the courts were stiff and the ties heavy.

On the other hand, Lacoste’s tennis shirt had a thick collar, was loose and non-starched, was made of pique cotton, had side slits at the bottom, and sported a longer shirt-tail. The thick collar, when turned up, provided protection to the neck so that the player didn’t get sun burned.

What’s interesting about Lacoste’s tennis shirt was that polo players were already wearing shirts of the same design since the late 19th century. Back then, they wore long-sleeved shirts that had a button-down collar. These shirts were made of thick Oxford-cloth cotton. Even though the collar of this shirt-style was thick and didn’t constantly flap from the wind, these polo shirts were still not comfortable nor were they convenient to wear. Thus, when polo players discovered Lacoste’s shirt design during the 1930s, they didn’t think twice about adopting his design for their polo shirt.

It didn’t take long for tennis shirts and polo shirts to be synonymous. When the 1950s came around, polo shirts were regarded as formal tennis attire in the United States. Even tennis players were calling their attire “polo shirt”. In reality, though, the “polo shirt” was actually first worn during a tennis game and not during a polo game.

The polo shirt reached its peak of popularity in 1967 when Ralph Lauren introduced his original clothing line aptly named Polo. Ralph Lauren’s shirts weren’t made for players to wear during polo games but the association of the polo shirt with the idea of leisure propelled his shirt into an instant hit with non-polo players.

Golf attire used to be formal, but in the 20th century, golf players started to wear less formal and more easygoing golf apparel. It wasn’t just polo players who started adopting the tennis shirt as standard sports attire, but golf players as well. Today, you’ll see most golf players wearing these shirts at tournaments. However, since golf is very different from tennis, the tennis shirts for golf players has to have a different cut design which differentiates the golf shirt from a tennis shirt.

Tennis shirts are so common today; they are worn by practically anyone whether they play sports or not. Men and women wear them regardless of occasion. Clothing companies typically have their own version of Lacoste’s shirt. These shirts are the perfect attire for times when round-collar t-shirts are too informal and formal business wear is too overdressed. You’ll find semi-professional people and those in the retail industry often wearing tennis shirts to work. In many workplace environments, these shirts are acceptable work attire as they’re smart and casual.

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