Style SOS: What does smart-casual actually mean?
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Though the polo’s exact origins are debated, what does seem apparent is that it was tennis great René Lacoste who created the version we know today. His refinements included short sleeves, for ease of movement, an unrestrictive collar and a split hem, so it would stay tucked in as he ran about the court. All crafted, of course, from breathable piqué cotton. The polo was ideal for battling it out on the tennis courts.
Of course, it’s now a staple off it too. Its versatility means you can wear it smart and casual, especially since polos range from retro knit styles, made to be worn with suits, to the sporty breeds that Roger Federer and friends still wear at Wimbledon.
Whether you’re wearing it to play tennis, or just to watch it, getting the fit right is vital. “Piqué is a very unforgiving fabric,” says Thread stylist Luke McDonald. “It sits quite close to the body, so if your polo doesn’t fit it’s going to look bulky. It’s not like an Oxford which is easy to wear.”
Just like with a dress shirt, the shoulder seam should sit on your shoulders – not further down the arms. Anything too baggy will look sloppy and lose any semblance of formality. “You also don’t want it pulling up under the arm, or sticking into your armpits,” says Luke.
Ideally, they should come down about halfway down your biceps. “Anything shorter looks too vintage, shrunken and not that flattering,” says Luke. “Aim for a slim fit around the arms too. You want to be able to move in a polo, you don’t want it to be ultra-tight.” If you can slide one finger between sleeve and your skin you’re on the right track.
Traditional polo shirts are about an inch longer at the back, which is to help it stay snug when tucked in. When untucked, the polo shirt should sit just fall below your belt, but not past the bottom of your pockets.
Your motto should be: slim, but not tight. Excess fabric hang off you like a tent, but it shouldn’t be so snug that every lump and bump beneath is visible. If you can pinch an inch or two of fabric, that’s ideal.
“Even when the collar is buttoned up to the top, you want it to sit flat,” says Luke. “It shouldn’t be pulling too tight. If it does, the shirt’s too small and you should go up a size. You don’t want what I call the ‘bacon effect’, where you get the rippling along the placket.”
Words: Theresa Harold
Photography: Jon Cardwell
Styling: Luke McDonald