Have you ever noticed how the fabrics of Polos tend to be different from the ones of T-shirts and button-up shirts? Turns out there is a reason for that.
But first, let’s find out where polo shirts come from…
A Brief History of the Polo Shirt
As inconceivable as it might be today in the age of athleisure (sportswear that looks like underwear), there was once a time when people had to get physical in pretty much the same clothes they went to church in.
In the beginning of the XX century, Men had to perform sports in button-up shirts and trousers, but they still had it better than women who had to chase a ball in ankle-length skirts and tight blouses. Tired of having to roll up his sleeves during tennis matches, a French tennis champion decided to take matters into his own hands and design the perfect tennis shirt.
The new tennis shirt would have short sleeves for major movement, a better performing fabric (more on that later), and a simplified collar that while more comfortable, still provided some sort of formality. The name of this entrepreneurial fashion designer? Rene Lacoste — that’s right — the very same man who founded the Lacoste brand. Baptised as “the Crocodile” by the American press due to his large nose, Lacoste embraced it and branded his new invention by stamping an image of the reptile on the garment.
From Tennis Shirt to Polo Shirt
American designer Ralph Lauren entered the fashion scene by producing leisurewear for rich people who wanted to be comfortable but didn’t want to lose status by doing so. Lauren decided to call his new line Polo because according to him, it was the most elegant of all sports and it had a long history of being an activity for aristocrats. A bitter battle between the two brands started in the late 70’s and early 80’s to dominate the market when Lauren introduced his version of the tennis shirt dubbed “polo.”
While most consider Lacoste pieces to be of higher quality, the name “Polo Shirt” ultimately stuck over “Tennis Shirt.”
Note: You might also find interesting ‘Novel or dull? How workwear inspires high fashion.’
How are fabrics made?
Polos are usually made of a knitted material, they tend to be either piqué or jersey, but before we explain the difference between the two we must first understand the difference between weaving and knitting.
For centuries, almost since the very beginning of civilisation, human beings have produced fabrics by two methods: either weaving or knitting.
Is the process of interlacing long threads with one another to create a fabric. These threads are placed horizontally and vertically, almost like a checkerboard, to hold them together. Denim and cotton are always woven. Probably the place where a woven pattern can be best appreciated would be in a straw basket. Weaving can be really simple or very complex depending on the selected pattern.
Chances are there is someone in your life that has picked up knitting as a hobby at some point in their lives. Unlike weaving where one interlaces different threads, in knitting one uses long needles to create stitches of a single yarn. The easiest way to recognise knitting is to look at the material very closely and if this one looks like different braids one right next to the other, then it is a knit.
What does this has got to do with Polos?
As I mentioned before, polos are almost always made of knitted fabrics and while nowadays you can find polos made out of any fabric (silk and linen, among them) jersey and piqué are traditionally the most popular.
A knit fabric, which is widely used in T-shirts, was first made famous by Coco Chanel for outerwear. Before that it was exclusively associated with underwear. Polos that are made of Jersey have a much softer texture and are fitting for physical activities.
It became the “polo” fabric thanks to Lacoste. Piqué seemed like an obvious choice as it is durable, flexible and breathes well. It is known for its geometric knit. If you look at it up close, it seems to form a “honeycomb” or “waffle” type of pattern.
Why are some polos double piqué?
As with double knit, double piqué is a technique used to combine two types of threads. This is done for all kinds of reasons, sometimes it is to make a fabric stronger or to cut down costs by combining a lower quality material with a higher end one. It is also sometimes a design decision as combining textiles of different colours can create a singular effect.
Jersey VS Piqué – Which one is better?
At the end of the day, it is a matter of personal choice. Some people state that polo shirts made of piqué look more expensive because the fabric is stronger and makes the collar stand sturdier, but others prefer the jersey because it is more comfortable.
In my personal opinion, a jersey polo shirt can look elegant when it is made out of a quality material (not all jerseys are made equal) and styled in the right way. If you don’t believe me, take a look at how James Dean rocked the jersey polo shirt.
Then again, James Dean could have worn a trash bag as a shirt and still would have looked handsome enough to stop traffic.
How can I tell the difference?
Simple, just touch it.
- If it’s soft and smooth
- Similar to a T-shirt
- It’s cheaper than piqué
- It’s texturised
- It’s bulkier and heavier
- Breathes better than jersey
- When you look at it closely, the fabric has a “honeycomb” or “waffle” pattern
- It’s more expensive than jersey
If you’re ordering online, look for a section that describes the material of the garment. You can also always contact their customer service and ask.
Are you a fan of Polo shirts? Did you know the story of Lacoste? Let us know in the comments below or you can always join in the conversation via any of our social media networks! We always enjoy hearing from you.
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