Polo -the sport- was invented in Persia over 2,500 years ago. It’s name comes from India, where polo was played with a wooden ball called “Pulu” in Tibetan.
The British military have played a lot of polo during the Indian colonization. During the Victorian times, the polo outfit was made of flannel trousers and a tennis sweater worn over a white buttonned shirt with a stiff collar. The heat and humidity soon forced the British to find a more appropriate outfit. They began to use a white jersey shirt that was pulled over the head with buttons on about 5 inches below the neck to maintain respectability.
In 1901, the Maharaja of Jodhpur – also inventor of the Jodhpur trousers – had this shirt re-tailored in a straighter and shorter version. The English brought what was the first polo shirt in history back home, but it was poorly suited to the British weather and fell into oblivion.
In 1927, the polo shirt saga takes a new bounce in France on a tennis court.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, tennis players were all dressed in the same way: a white shirt worn with the sleeves rolled up, flannel trousers and a white tie. An outfit rather uncompatible with a smooth game. René L, the 7 times Grand Slam champion, decided one day that this rigid uniform was too uncomfortable for him. He therefore created a polo shirt inspired by the long sleeves shirt used by rugby players. The first polo shirt was made of white piqué with a small collar and short sleeves. It was long enough not to move out of the trousers during active sports. René L wore it for the first time at the 1926 US Open. In 1927, “The 4 Musketeers” (L, Coche, Borotra and Brugnon) won the Davis Cup wearing these shirts.
René L was nicknamed “The Crocodile” for his quickness on the court and for the shape of his nose. His friend Robert George designed a crocodile that René L. had embroidered on his clothes.
In 1929, when struck the hour of his retirement, René L. decided to market his polo shirt adorned with the little crocodile that became the hallmark of the brand.
At the end of the Second War, the Indian ancestor of polo sprung out of oblivion in Anglo-Saxon countries. Decorated with large two-tone stripes, it is first adopted in the US by cricketers, rugby and polo players. Numbers are printed to differentiate the teams. Polo shirts sometimes have a white collar – symbol of the elites- when the sports teams come from prestigious preparatory schools and universities like Yale or Harvard.
Sophisticated and comfortable, the polo shirt gradually becomes the flagship of the preppy look (prep school) worn by young American graduates on weekend in the 1950s.
The polo begins to be marketed in the United States in 1952. President Eisenhower wears it for his very publicized golf games.
Over the next decade, polo was adopted by the American bourgeoisie to distinguish themselves from the working classes. R.L. launched his famous polo in 1972. It was immediately adopted from the East to the West of the United States, from Hollywood to the White House. In the early 1990s, the African American community also adopts the polo shirt. It becomes the symbol of clothing throughout America.