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The dos and don’ts of polo shirts

The dos and don’ts of polo shirts

The polo shirt is one of the great wardrobe unifiers. Your dad probably owns a slightly too faded one. Your golf-loving uncle likely sports one on and off the course. And let us guess: your trendy younger brother owns an oversized one? You might even own one or two yourself, and if you don’t, you really should. And that’s because this smart casual style occupies the sweet spot between smart and casual dressing, and it has for more than a century. 

Like denim, the polo shirt has a storied history. It was born on the polo field and quickly became a menswear staple adopted by many a subculture. But because it has athletic roots, it lends more comfort to your everyday wardrobe than essentials with workwear or military origins. And even though it’s as tried and true as they come, the most stylish men among us are still finding fresh ways to wear them in this century – including our very own stylist Toby Standing. 

“Polos are genuinely one of my favourite things,” he says. “They’re the perfect middle ground. They feel dressed up enough to wear in professional settings without feeling stuffy. And as we ease out of lockdown, you’ll find that they’re the perfect stepping stone between what you’ve been lounging in to what you’ll be wearing out and about. And they’re not going anywhere, so you might as well find one that works for you.” 

But before you do, keep in mind a few of Toby’s key style tips. Your dad, your uncle, and your brother will want to take note, too. 

Don’t opt for collars that are too big or too small

Photographed: Similar to featured Reiss Wilkie Knitted Cotton Polo Shirt (£55)

If you opt for too small a collar then you might as well have reached for a Henley. On the other hand, opting for a polo shirt with a large collar will end up looking costumey. So if you want a shirt that’s more of a daily wardrobe building block, make sure it has a classic collar. This is your baseline.

Do go for a cotton blend

Luckily there are plenty of options to choose from. The one featured here is made from a cotton-silk blend, but you can also find even more breathable cotton-linen blends for the balmiest summer days (warning: they’re coming). These fabrics will ensure your polo feels like a happy medium between a t-shirt and an Oxford shirt. And that means you can dress it down for casual and smarter settings alike. 

Don’t reach for a cotton piqué

Photographed: Similar to featured Reiss Wilkie Knitted Cotton Polo Shirt (£55), Similar to featured Nudie Jeans Lean Dean Slim-Fit Tapered Stretch-Denim Jeans (£72)

Yes, that would be the fabric you wore for all those PE classes. And while it worked well (we’re being kind) during your mid-day volleyball session, it will look less at home in your post-adolescent life. In fact, if you wear it today, you’ll only end up looking like you're wearing your tennis kit with jeans. So reserve the cotton piqué for sports and stick to one of the aforementioned cotton blends when choosing polo shirts for everyday wear. Your adolescent self would be proud to learn you’ve moved on. 

Do go for a classic or regular fit 

The polo shirt is not not designed to be slim fitting – and it will look jarring and ill-fitting if that’s what you go for. A muscle fit also isn’t the way to go; we promise it doesn’t look good on anyone, even people in the best shape of their life. A regular fit, on the other hand, looks super timeless, which is the aim because it’s a garment with a heritage feel. With that in mind, make sure the sleeve finishes above your elbow and the shoulder seam actually sits on your shoulder. Want more fit advice? Read more about how a polo should fit


Don’t wear it in formal settings

Even though polo shirts can be dressed up, you shouldn’t assume you can wear it in place of a shirt in any setting. At the office? Sure. At a wedding? Probably not. So only wear it with a suit if the setting feels truly smart casual. And certainly never wear it with a tie – yes, we’ve seen it done. 

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Words: Allison Pavlick
Photography: Jack Batchelor
Styling: Toby Standing