Who put the ‘Polo’ in the Ralph Lauren Polo Shirt?

Galloping Horse and Rider Polo Ralph Lauren

The Ralph Lauren Polo Shirt is a menswear classic but did you ever wonder how a fairly niche sport led to an iconic piece of menswear beloved the world over by everyone from indie bands to world leaders?

The story starts with the British Army in the late 19th century stationed out in the birthplace of Polo in Manipur India who, after witnessing a match, set up the very first polo club of its time. The sport quickly grew in popularity within the British Army and amongst British tea planters in India. Though their polo playing kit with traditional attire of the time consisting of thick, long sleeved shirts made of cotton wasn’t ideal for playing in the hot Indian sun and as the sport became more and more popular alternatives were sought. By the 1920s a solution was found via the world of tennis and their much lighter, breathable pique cotton shirts (all made in the North West of England). Polo players soon adopted this new ‘tech’ fabric to make their shirts, discovering the added bonus that the fabric allowed them to turn up the collars of the shirt to avoid them getting a sunburnt neck.

By the early Seventies certain tennis stars had already started to make a noise with their shirts outside of the sports world but it was Ralph Lauren who really made the ‘Polo’ a fashion phenomenon. Inspired by Argentinian polo star Lewis Lacey whose sports shop in  Buenos Aires sold a shirt embossed with the logo of a player astride a pony in the 1920s Ralph set out to make his own timeless version.

Having set up Ralph Lauren in 1967, he then launched his own take on the polo in 1972, releasing it in twenty four different colours, to instant acclaim, finding particular favour amongst Ivy League students. An American classic, the iconic Ralph Lauren polo shirt may be available in a few more colours these days but it’s design and instant appeal have stayed the same. 

Written by Neil Summers

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