A Brief History Of The Polo Shirt

Though the origins of the men’s polo shirt are hotly debated, its status as a highly versatile piece of clothing in sport and leisure is undoubted. Here, we chart the rise and rise of the polo shirt – from inventive french tennis players to a certain secret agent.


The modern tennis shirt, was a style born out of frustration with the rigid codes of sportswear in the early 20th century which expected competitors to wear flannel trousers and full sleeved shirts rolled up. Lacoste sought to simplify these restrictive styles with a short sleeved shirt in a lightweight cotton pique, a feature that would remain in tennis shirts to this day. Debuting at the US Open, the new shirt was breathable with a soft collar for a more relaxed look. Seeing the business prospects of the polo shirt, Lacoste collaborated with American manufacturer Andre Gillier in the 1930s to produce the modern tennis shirt, at which point the polo became the uniform for all competing players.


Sunspel’s own development of the classic polo shirt dates back to the 50s, when Peter Hill (grandson of founder Thomas Hill) brought the style to Britain. In an effort to make the polo lighter, Hill introduced the polo in a unique fabric. The new open knit fabric allowed air to circulate, keeping the body cool and comfortable. It truly was one of the best men’s polo shirts of its time – and its popularity continues to this day.


Over years, the polo’s prominence took off from the tennis courts to the streets of London as the symbol of an emerging ‘youth quake’. Adopted for its informal take on the classic shirt, the polo came to symbolise a wide spectrum of youth movements. From Mods who reached for their Fred Perry polos, to the American East coast set, the polo was the go-to garment for style conscious youths. By the late 60s the shirt had even been adopted by heads of state on their downtime, including U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and US President John F Kennedy.


In 1972 Mr. Ralph Lifshitz (also known as Ralph Lauren) set up his casual wear company ‘Polo’. Emblazoned with his trademark polo player in motion, the polo shirt became the mainstay of wardrobes across the world. Easily identifiable with it’s rich colour palette and close alignment with the sport of kings, Lauren’s polo shirt became emblematic of the aspirational lifestyles of the America’s rich and famous.


Firmly placed as a versatile wardrobe staple for any man. It was only fitting that 007 himself should revitalise the polo. In 2006 Casino Royal costumer Lindy Hemming approached Sunspel to outfit Daniel Craig with a new James Bond Polo Shirt. Meeting the demands of a Bond who was more active and muscular, we decided to take one of our vintage fabrics, and reconfigure our classic shirt to complement Daniel Craig’s physique. Allowing him to move cleanly and easily in action sequences. This edition of the polo shirt did away with any decorations or add ons resulting in the most elegant and practical of garments suitable for a man of action and style. We called it the Riviera Polo Shirt.