When it comes to all the different names for shirts, one of the most commonly misunderstood types is the polo shirt. What classifies as a polo, and what’s the difference between a polo and a t-shirt?
Polo shirts are designed similarly to t-shirts, but with the addition of two or three buttons under the collar. Worn correctly with a proper tuck in, polos can be used for semi-formal attire. T-shirts, on the other hand, are predominantly for casual wear.
There are a few differences in style and function that distinguish t-shirts and polos, but in general, shirts with a collar and two to three buttons beneath are classified as polos. The rest of this article will discuss what distinguishes polo shirts from t-shirts and how they’re meant to be worn.
What Classifies as a Polo Shirt?
Polos and t-shirts have a lot of similarities, which often leads to confusion when classifying the two. As a general rule, if the shirt has a collar with two or three buttons below, then it’s a polo shirt.
Some people also refer to polos as a tennis shirt or golf shirt, and it’s for obvious reasons. In the past, polos were exclusively used for sportswear, predominantly in (you guessed it) tennis and golf.
Compared to regular shirts which are typically made from cotton or woven fabric, polo shirts come in a range of materials including Pique thread, merino fabric, silk, synthetic fabrics, and interlock yarn. Polos can come in a variety of styles, such as short sleeved, long sleeved, wool, or pocket.
T-shirts, on the other hand, are typically just short sleeved and come with a crew cut or a V-neck.
Originally used for undergarments, t-shirts have become society’s go-to choice of clothing for their comfort, practicality, and the capability to put just about any graphic design on them. You won’t often see polos with graphics since they’re designed to be used in semi-professional settings.
Why Is It Called a Polo Shirt?
The polo shirt, a staple of the modern clothing industry, was originally designed for the sport of polo, a game in which two opposing teams attempt to score in the opponents’ goal using a wooden mallet while on horseback.
Initially, thick cotton long-sleeved shirts were used for the sport, which, as you can imagine, isn’t too comfortable when you’re being jostled around on the back of a horse.
In the late 19th century, British polo players designed a shirt that would prevent the collar from flapping in the wind and causing a nuisance to players.
Nearing the beginning of the 20th century, US company Brooks Brothers came to England on a buying trip and happened to notice the innovative design of the polo shirt. John E. Brooks brought the idea back home to the U.S. and launched it as a button-down dress shirt, a fashion trend that is said to be the most imitated item of clothing in history.
Polo shirts today have gone through several iterations, but the popularity of the polo shirt we know today originated from Ralph Lauren, a clothing company in the late 1960s. The menswear line named ‘Polo’ became an iconic piece in the company’s lineup and proved to be similar to other polo attire of its time.
Is Polo Shirt a Formal Attire?
A polo shirt is not true formal attire. Just as people get mixed up on polo shirts vs t-shirts, it’s very easy to get mixed up on the difference between business-casual and business-professional dress. In short, polos are not appropriate when the dress code is formal attire.
Men attending a formal event must wear dark colored suits with a complementary tie. The shirt must be buttoned to the top and be accompanied with a tie or a bowtie. In semi-formal attire, polos are acceptable, but they are on the lowest rung of semi-formal wear.
It should still be tucked into the pants and buttoned up, with the top button open. A professional long-sleeved buttoned shirt is preferable for semi-formal events, but not required. A tie is optional. A polo shirt under a blazer works appropriately with jeans or dress pants.
Appropriate semi-formal attire items are as follows:
- Dress shirt – any button-up shirt that has sleeves and a collar.
- Cell phone shirt – a dress shirt with a pocket for a cell phone.
- Polo shirt – a shirt with two or three buttons and a collar.
- Button up shirt – a shirt with buttons lining it.
If you’re going to wear a polo shirt to a semi-formal event, you’ll want to make sure the colors are fairly plain and aren’t a mismatch with everything else that you’re wearing. Since polos are usually short sleeved, it’s advisable to put them under a blazer if the tone is more on the professional side of semi-formal.
Polo Shirt vs Golf Shirt
The main difference between polo shirts and golf shirts is the material used to make them. Polo shirts are designed very similarly to golf shirts, with the classic placket neckline and two or three buttons.
Since golfers have to compete outdoors in hot conditions, golf shirts are typically made from polyester blends that have built-in moisture-wicking properties, helping them stay cool out on the golf course.
Should I Tuck in a Polo Shirt with Jeans?
It’s preferable to tuck in your polo shirt with jeans. Make sure you’re wearing a belt, too! This is appropriate for semi-formal attire, but just be aware that it is on the lowest level of ‘formal’ that you can be. If you’re wearing a polo just to look a little smarter for something that doesn’t have a designated dress code, then you don’t have to tuck in your shirt.
If you’re ever uncertain, ask the event coordinator what the dress code is. If the dress code is semi-formal, then you’ll want to tuck in your polo.
What Kind of Pants Go with Polo Shirts?
Just about any style of pants go with polo shirts. Jeans are a good pick if you’re leaning more towards the casual side, while khakis or dress pants work well for a more professional environment. Either way, you should top off your snazzy look with a pair of nice dress shoes. Sneakers are never an acceptable part of a semi-formal outfit.
What Do You Wear under a Polo Shirt?
Underneath a polo shirt, the only real option you have is a white undershirt. That’s because other colors run the risk of showing up through the fabric due to the materials it’s made from. A V-neck undershirt is best because it won’t show up anywhere near as much as a crew neck undershirt.
Of course, you can simply choose not to wear an undershirt if you’re comfortable with it. Polos are usually pretty lightweight and breathable, and most people find it awkward wearing two short sleeved t-shirts.
What Is a Polo Shirt without a Collar Called?
Polo shirts without a collar simply become t-shirts. Although they are made of different materials, the distinguishing feature of a polo shirt is the collar. There is one item of clothing that falls under the ‘polo shirt without a collar’ category called a top shirt. A top shirt is a long sleeved collarless polo shirt.
Do All Polo Shirts Have Collars?
By standard definition, all polo shirts come with collars. The placket collar, distinguished by the shape and the presence of two or three buttons allow for some different comfort options while wearing the polo shirt. A polo shirt without a collar would cease to be a polo shirt and would probably just be referred to as a standard t-shirt.
Do Polo Shirts Make You Sweat?
Polo shirts aren’t more likely to make you sweat. Standard polo shirts are like regular t-shirts, which provide little protection against the warmth of the sun, especially if you’re doing rigorous exercise. Some polo shirts are engineered for sports performance, having moisture wicking properties built into them.
These types of shirts are often advertised as wicking or sweat resistant. Compared to regular shirts, wicking shirts are built with two layers that can handle sweat better than regular shirts. The first layer absorbs sweat from your body, while the second outer layer blocks sweat from coming through, reducing or even entirely preventing sweat from coming through
Of course, if you’re worried about sweat staining your polo shirt, you can always wear a clean, breathable crew neck or V-neck undershirt to help protect your polo. Undershirts often having wicking properties as well, making them worthwhile if you know you’re going to be spending a fair amount of time in the heat.
Polos are basically t-shirts that have a unique style of collar. They’re pretty useful in a variety of situations, such as golfers who use sports performance designed polos to beat the heat. You can also pair a polo with a nice blazer, clean slacks, and dress shoes to create a great look for your next semi-formal event.