Why do tennis stars wear polo shirts?
In truth, the modern pique polo shirt is a far cry from the rather smarter shirt ‘sported’ by British soldiers in India in the 19th century. There would never have been ‘branding’ back then and the cut was that of a shirt with a curved hem that could be tucked neatly away in ones jodhpur pants.
Like many men’s fashion essentials including the pea coat, duffle coat and khakis (chinos), the polo shirt was design born out of necessity. Much loved by tennis players, golfers and every company looking for a new uniform for its workforce, the shirt, as the name suggests began life on the polo fields of Manipur.
The polo shirt design was developed in India in the 19th century when the colonial British were introduced to a sport that the locals had been playing for centuries. Polo on horseback. In 1862, Calcutta Polo Club, was established by two British soldiers, Sherer and Captain Robert Stewart; the oldest still existing polo club in the world
The ‘Sport of Kings’ – Polo, the oldest team sport in the world
The problem when playing the ‘sport of kings’ was that the collars on the standard men’s shirt worn by the payers flapped as the horses and riders galloped in pursuit of the ball. The answer was to secure the collar ends to the body of the shirt using a button at the end of each point.
The innovation of the button-down shirt along with polo was brought back to Britain; it was in turn spotted by American by John E Brooks who took the design to States where he began to produce an oxford weave ‘polo shirt’ in 1896.
Mean while back in Britain tennis was continuing to gain popularity as a social past time for the upper classes; the first Wimbledon championships were held in 1877 and the Lawn Tennis Association codified the rules of the game in 1888. The clothing largely came from cricket: starched shirts with long sleeves, caps, cricket sweaters and flannels. The shirts were often tight fitting and made from a woven cotton twill or poplin. The problem with woven fabrics in sport is that they do not stretch and therefore restrict movement. Knitted fabrics like jersey and pique allowed for greater movement and were far more breathable.
In time, tennis borrowed from polo and fashion and fabric innovations elsewhere. As rivalries and competition within tennis intensified the need for cutting edge design to provide the winning edge became ever more important; the button-down collar invented at Imphal Polo Ground in Manipur was introduced to lawn tennis along with the ‘polo’ name that the collar had become associated with. Sleeves were made short and shirt quarter, half length shirt plackets with just a few buttons were introduced from the traditional ‘popover shirt’ thus allowing the new sports top to be ‘popped’ over the head quickly.
The polo shirt had finally changed sport and design!
Be a good sport old chap!
Introducing ‘Milo’ the classic tennis polo! Handcrafted in Italy using luxurious jersey cotton and finished with real mother of pearl buttons.