When anyone hears “polo” in connection with clothing, he will almost certainly think of either the ubiquitous polo player logo (and the brand that goes with it) or the common “polo shirt,” vanguard of the bus-cas assault on elegance. But beyond a brand name, classic men’s clothing owes a great deal to the game of polo.
The button-down shirt collar, that most quintessentially American classic style detail, was actually borrowed from English polo players, whom John E. Brooks saw using buttons to keep their collars from flying up during play. In 1896 he introduced this new button down collar in his family’s New York shop, Brooks Brothers, and called it the polo collar. Style icons from Fred Astaire to Andy Warhol to Gianni Agnelli were famously devoted to the polo collar.
Polo coats, too, came from the sport, beginning as wrap around “wait coats.” These coats were thrown over the shoulders of resting polo players, much like a warm up jacket might be worn by a modern athlete. Polo coats were soon taken from the field, modified, and adopted as a collegiate staple in the early Twentieth Century. But not every overcoat is a polo coat. A polo coat traditionally is made of camel hair, is double-breasted, and has envelope pockets, a half belt, and cuffed sleeves. Polo coats are stylish, all purpose outerwear, useful for everything short of a tuxedo.
Polo’s contribution to menswear even extends to footwear. The chukka boot is a minimalist low boot, cut just above the ankle, and derives its name from the chukka, or chukker, one of six seven-minute divisions of time comprising a polo match. The name attached itself to a style of shoes worn by polo players, an alternative to the high equestrian boot. Chukka boots have only two or three sets of eyelets, and a plain toe, with no cap or wings.
Chukka boots often are textured, made of pebble grain leather or suede. Depending on last and sole type, whether leather, crepe, or lug sole, chukka boots can be taken from field—or horse—to city street comfortably. It’s an ideal casual boot that has the advantage of being easily slipped on and off. Even the sartorially demanding James Bond was recently outfitted with chukka boots.
While polo has given us other items that retain a more equestrian connotation, such as jodhpurs, these three men’s classics fit into any man’s wardrobe. A survey of classic men’s clothing will find many of our most useful and stylish pieces have been given to us by sport, and no sport has a finer record than polo, the Sport of Kings.