Six Of The Best Knitted Polos
An elevated version of a sports-casual classic – we select our favourites for spring.
One of the defining features of the original polo shirt was its material: a subtly textured, dobby-woven fabric known as piqué cotton. Lightweight and breathable, it was perfectly suited to the shirt’s original function – which was as a breezy alternative to the heavily starched, long-sleeved whites that were the accepted attire for tennis players in the early 20th century – and most famously pioneered by Mr René Lacoste.
Championed by brands such as Lacoste, Polo Ralph Lauren and Fred Perry, and worn by the likes of Messrs Steve McQueen and Paul Newman, the polo shirt quickly shook off its sporting roots in the 1950s and 1960s and established itself as an integral part of the casual wardrobe. Today, at Wimbledon, Roland-Garros or Flushing Meadows, you’ll see many more of them in the stands than you will on the court. The appeal of the polo shirt lies in its ability to bridge the gap between the informality of a T-shirt and the formality of a collared shirt.
In the case of a knitted polo shirt, the formality is upped a little further. Maintaining the fundamental design elements of the standard polo shirt – short sleeves, soft collar and buttoned half-placket – but doing away with the traditional cotton-piqué fabric in favour of fine-knit cotton, cashmere, linen or silk, the knitted polo is yet another “sporting classic reinvented”, coming hot on the heels of last season’s luxe tracksuit. Plenty of menswear designers have embraced the style this season, and why not? In more ways than one, it’s a cool alternative to a lightweight sweater when the mercury rises. Here are six of our favourites.
This Prada polo is positively packed with Blue Note cool. We can picture it being worn in smoky basement jazz clubs by men who play the piano, refer to each other as “cat” and use words such as “jive”. Maybe that’s just us, though. The ribbed trims and the sumptuously soft blend of silk, wool and cotton add an extra dash of refinement, ensuring you’ll feel as good as you look. Wear it with tailored black trousers, black patent penny loafers and white socks for maximum impact, throwing on a Harrington jacket when you leave the club.
Wear it with
What makes the polo shirt such a versatile garment, and the reason why so many of us keep at least one in our wardrobes, is how easily it transcends its sporting origins. Yes, it was designed for the tennis court, but it can also look incredibly sleek and elegant. This is never more the case than with a knitted polo shirt from Giorgio Armani, a brand that deals in sleekness and elegance in much the same way that ExxonMobil deals in oil and gas. (It’s their stock-in-trade, in other words.) In a cool shade of summer-sky blue, and with a contrasting collar so subtle that you can only see it up close, this polo shirt just oozes laid-back chic. It’s worth noting that the naturally stretchy virgin wool and slim cut give a rather body-hugging fit, so it’ll look better with a flat stomach. But then, sadly, so will everything.
Wear it with
If you find “black sheep” rather too hackneyed a term with which to describe your personal brand of nonconformism, and think of yourself as more of a “red shark”, then you’re going to love this knitted-cotton polo shirt, which comes to us courtesy of the New York designer Thom Browne. Here is a brand that has never courted the mainstream. Founded in 2001, at a time when the popularity of “business casual” meant that fewer and fewer men were wearing suits, the original product line consisted of suits and, er... that’s it. Explaining his business logic to New York magazine in 2006, the titular Mr Browne said that “jeans and a T-shirt have become establishment [...] so actually putting on a jacket is an anti-establishment stance”. The brand has grown hugely since then, now offering casualwear and accessories alongside an expanded line of tailoring, but, as this fishy little number demonstrates, it hasn’t lost one bit of its eccentric streak. Wear it with navy chinos for a simple tonal look.
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If the point of turning a polo shirt into knitwear is to further distance it from its roots, then Marni clearly didn’t get the memo. Featuring a striped collar that strongly references the garment’s retro sportswear origins, this is as close as you’ll get to a knitted polo that’s suitable for wearing on the tennis court or the golf course. But it’s far too refined for all of that. Wear it with navy trousers and smart sandals instead – and stick to spectating.
Wear it with
The technique that Missoni uses to produce these kaleidoscopic patterns is known as “space-dyeing”, and it will come as no surprise to learn that it was pioneered in the 1960s, the decade of tie-dye, peacockery and hallucinogenic drugs. It involves dip-dyeing the yarn in a variety of colours to create a rainbow yarn, which then arranges itself into vibrant geometric patterns when knitted. It sounds simple enough; the results are anything but. Oil on water, TV static and a hazy sunset on Mars are just a few of the things that we’ve seen in the patterns on this knitted-cotton polo shirt. But then, we have been staring at it for a very long time. It should really go without saying, but we suggest keeping the rest of your outfit as toned down as possible.
Wear it with
There is a timeless, sophisticated sense of style at the core of Michael Kors, a brand that has expanded far beyond its native New York City, but has not forgotten its American roots. Take this exquisite knitted-cotton polo shirt, a masterclass in mid-century collegiate cool. It’s not just suitable for the campus; in nautical shades of navy, petrol-blue and cream, it would look the part on a yacht, too. Just pair it with some neatly tailored chino shorts, boat shoes, sunglasses (Persol, naturally) and perhaps a light sweater thrown over your shoulders to keep the wind at bay.