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The Crocodile Rene Lacoste & The History Of The Modern Polo
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The Crocodile Rene Lacoste & The History Of The Modern Polo

The polo shirt, a garment renowned for its versatility and timeless appeal, has traversed a captivating journey that bridges the worlds of sport and fashion. With origins dating back to the polo fields of India and subsequent transformative contributions from influential figures like René Lacoste and Brooks Brothers, the polo shirt has emerged as an enduring symbol of style and sporting heritage.

This article delves into the rich history of the polo shirt, exploring its roots, the innovative modifications brought forth by key players, and its evolution into a wardrobe essential embraced by individuals across the globe. Read on as we unravel the story behind this iconic piece of menswear and uncover the seamless amalgamation of athletic prowess and sartorial elegance that the polo shirt represents.

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Key Takeaways

  1. The polo shirt has a fascinating history that combines elements of sport, fashion, and innovation.
  2. René Lacoste, a French tennis player and style icon, played a crucial role in revolutionizing the polo shirt by introducing shorter sleeves and the iconic crocodile logo.
  3. The origins of the polo shirt can be traced back to India in the mid-18th century, where British soldiers observed local polo matches and adopted shirts made of thick cotton fabric with button-down collars.
  4. Brooks Brothers, America’s oldest retail brand, contributed to the evolution of the polo shirt with their introduction of the button-down collar, later known as the Oxford Cloth Button Down (OCBD).
  5. The polo shirt has become a timeless and versatile garment, widely embraced in both athletic and everyday settings.
  6. Numerous brands, including Ralph Lauren, Fred Perry, and Hugo Boss, have built their flagship brands around the polo shirt, adding their own styles and designs to this classic piece of menswear.
  7. The polo shirt represents the fusion of sporting heritage and effortless style, making it a go-to choice for men seeking a comfortable and fashionable wardrobe staple.

By understanding the history and significance of the polo shirt, we gain insight into its enduring popularity and the diverse influences that have shaped its evolution. Whether worn on the tennis court, golf course, or in everyday life, the polo shirt remains an iconic symbol of sport-meets-style.

The Crocodile – Rene Lacoste

The modern polo shirt as we know it today was created for the tennis tournament US Open in 1926 where Rene Lacoste also won the US Open in 1926 and helped him popularize his “streamlining” of the Polo Shirt.

The tennis player Rene Lacoste revolutionized the polo shirt by shortening the sleeves of the originally long-sleeved polo shirt from India. In addition, the jersey got the famous Lacoste logo with the crocodile. Rene Lacoste was called “The Crocodile” in tennis circles because of his big nose.

In 1933 he then created his own company, Lacoste. Since that tournament, Polo Shirts have been a regular part of especially sportswear among tennis and golfers. The Polo Shirt is popular today and is worn by almost every man. The Polo Shirt is a great fit for everyday life, work, sailing and an ordinary stylish day. Today, most brands like Hugo Boss, Ralph Lauren and Fred Perry have their flagship brands around the Polo Shirt.

Was The Crocodile the Original Father of the Polo?

Photo Credit: Lacoste – Image of Rene Lacoste “The Crocodile” in 1933.

Read more about the history of the polo shirt here, find your favourite polo and get help choosing the right Polo Fit here: Find Your Perfect Polo Shirt

The Origin & History of The Polo Shirt

Although we know very well some of the most iconic manufacturers of the polo shirt, such as Lacoste, Brooks Brothers, Fred Perry and Polo Ralph Lauren, very few people have much knowledge of the origins of the otherwise well-known jersey.

The polo shirt we know today can probably be largely attributed to tennis legend René Lacoste, who in the 1920s began to make a short-sleeved variant of the clothes that polo players of that time wore, in a more technical fabric quality called piqué.

But before Rene Lacoste, the Polo origins back to a few years earlier, in another part of the world.

The Original Polo Shirt is From India

Photo Credit: La Polo India

Many sources point in the direction of Rene Lacoste as father of the Modern Polo Shirt in 1926, and there are other sources that link it to India in the mid-18th century, the game “Polo” played in Manipur, India is named “Pulu”.

The Indian “Pulu” game, meaning “ball” in the local Manipuri language was played by the tribesmen around in the Indian villages of Manipur in a rough, colloquial style for the thrill of it. Read more: FROM PULU TO POLO by La Polo.

We actually have to go even further back in time, as early as 3100 BC in the villages of Manipur to find the origin of this garment, back to the end of the 18th century and the city of Manipur in India, which was British at the time. In India, British soldiers are thought to have witnessed a local polo match in the Indian region of Manipur. The British soldiers watched how the locals played a polo match, then decided to found the first polo club in India, which was also the first in the world.

A sport that later became very popular, not just locally but around the world. It is part of the story that the clothes worn for polo matches were shirts made of thick cotton fabric and with wide collars. To avoid getting the collars in the face when riding, they chose to fasten the players’ collars with buttons so that the collar does not get in the way when the horses rode around during the game.

It is said to be the birth of the first button down collar, which later came to form the basis of two different fashion icons, the oxford shirt and the polo shirt. When the soldiers came home to Britain and introduced the game, they had the jerseys with them, it’s considered that this moment was when the legend of the polo shirt was created. This moment of a new fashion icon happened in the 1860s.

The Brooks Brothers’ Influence to The Polo

Photo: The Brooks Brothers 1933

Who are the Brook Brothers?

Brooks Brothers is the oldest retail brand and clothier in the United States and is headquartered in Manhattan, New York City. Founded in 1818 still serving fashionable men with bespoke tailoring and iconic clothing pieces like the Polo.

Henry Sands Brooks calls on his sons, all of whom had become retailers themselves, to assist with his burgeoning business. His eldest son, Henry, Jr. takes the helm upon his father’s passing later that year. He remains in charge until 1850, when younger brothers Daniel, John, Elisha, and Edward, assume leadership and change the firm’s name to Brooks Brothers. Brooks Brothers is an American icon.

On a business trip to England in the late 1800s, John Brooks, the heir to the American men’s equipment Brooks Brothers, watched a polo match. We do not know anything about his impression of the sport, but according to the story, he fell for the device that the players used to fasten their shirt collars.

“At a polo match in England, John E. Brooks, grandson of the founder, noticed something peculiar about the players’ collars: they were buttoned down so as to prevent their flapping in the wind. John brought his discovery back to Brooks Brothers, and thus was born the Button-Down shirt, a Brooks classic and what some have called “the most imitated item in fashion history”. Read the Heritage of the Brooks Brothers.

The OCBD shirt – Oxford Cloth Button Down. John Brooks took the idea of buttoning the shirt collars home to the United States, where it later led to the introduction of his famous button-down shirt, the OCBD shirt (Oxford Cloth Button Down) as they call it, “The Original Polo Shirt “. Anyhow, the choice of your next, or first polo shirt, should be a reflection of yourself.

It should state who you are, and not what anyone or everyone tells you to be or look like. Pick your style, pick your colours and feel comfortable. It’s the state of time where any fancy or expensive polo shirt comes to life, not any fashion writers or designers idea of what looks good at them, but what looks good at you.

The Crocodile And Rene Lacoste

Lacoste is a French company, founded in 1933 by tennis player René Lacoste and André Gillier. A love for the game, a passion for innovation and a certain French elegance. Since 1933, the story of Lacoste has mirrored that of its founder, René Lacoste, the French tennis legend who revolutionized the everyday wardrobe.

In the excitement of the Roaring Twenties, the young and talented tennis player René Lacoste is already making an impression with his elegant game, his sense of fair play and his originality, that ten years later, is to become a signature of the brand.

After a Davis Cup match in Boston, an American journalist baptizes René Lacoste “The Alligator” in reference to a bet between the tennis player and his coach over a crocodile suitcase. Artist Robert George brings the crocodile logo to life in 1927.

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Photo: Lacoste 1923 – The first crocodile, the birth of a symbol

René Lacoste’s Influence to The Polo

Tennis originated from monasteries in northern France as far back as the 12th century and, like so many other sports at the time, was practiced by the more affluent section of the population. In the early 1900s, the game was still something seen in the upper class. The outfit consisted of white attire with white cotton pants, white button down shirt and often a white knit sweater with V-neck. The history of Tennis also believe that the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans played different versions of sports and tennis. Arabic words going back the ancient Egyptian times suggest that they played Tennis. The theory suggest that tennis is derived from the Egyptian town of Tinnis the word racquet evolved from the Arabic word for palm of the hand, rahat. The Medieval form of tennis is termed as real tennis, a game that evolved over three centuries, from an earlier ball game played around the 12th century in France which involved hitting a ball with a bare hand and later with a glove.

The French tennis player René Lacoste was in his time remarkably style icon on the tennis court. He shocked the conservative view of proper attire or sports uniform with his bold changes to the attire, replacing the traditional white shirt with a more airy version made of piqué fabric. Clean remove the classic button closure, he replaced the tennis jersey with a closure that only went down to the chest and shortened the sleeves significantly.

Rene got the inspiration for all the changes from Polo Sporten, he updated the soft clothes, but without a button down collar that was used at the time. As a tribute to the origins of new designs and where Rene got his inspiration for the clothes from, he chose to call his tennis jersey “the polo”.

Rene won the US Open in 1926 which at the same time popularized his “streamlining” and upgrading of the polo shirt as you know it today. Later in 1933 he then created his own company, Lacoste. Since his tournament in 1926, polo shirts have been a regular part of especially sportswear among tennis and golfers. But it is also used today at work or on holiday as a more casual version than the shirt. It is a timeless and comfortable sweater that suits the modern and stylish man.

1933, Lacoste Becomes A Legend

The polo revolution wins over the world in 1933, and not just the sport of the sport. With his first advertising campaign, René Lacoste officially launches the brand, enters the world of fashion and launches a legend. In the early 1930s, Lacoste retired from tennis and, in collaboration with André Gillier, owner of one of France’s largest jersey manufacturers, launched a reproduction of the now well-known polo shirt in the form of the La Chemise Lacoste brand. The jersey became a success and took the world by storm.

For the rest of the 19th century, the Polo Shirt has been the foundation for many new brands like Ralph Lauren, Fred Perry, Hugo Boss, La Martina who are world wide giants in the fashion industry. The Polo has also helped many fashion underdogs and new cool brands to enter the market with better fits and more desirable designs.

Designing polo shirts since 1933 – Lacoste

Courtesy of Lacoste

Find a Polo Suitable for you: Find Your Perfect Polo Shirt & What to Consider Before Buying

Conclusion

The modern polo shirt, as we know it today, has an interesting history that involves various influences and innovators. While René Lacoste is often credited with revolutionizing the polo shirt by shortening the sleeves and adding the iconic crocodile logo, the origins of the polo shirt can be traced back to India in the mid-18th century. British soldiers who witnessed local polo matches in Manipur, India, introduced the concept of shirts made of thick cotton fabric with wide collars that were fastened with buttons to prevent the collars from flapping during the game.

The Brooks Brothers also played a significant role in the evolution of the polo shirt. John Brooks, during a trip to England in the late 1800s, observed polo players fastening their shirt collars with buttons. He brought this idea back to the United States and introduced the button-down shirt, also known as the Oxford Cloth Button Down (OCBD), which later became synonymous with the polo shirt.

René Lacoste, a French tennis player, made further contributions to the development of the polo shirt. He incorporated elements from the sport of polo, such as the soft fabric and streamlined design, into his tennis attire. Lacoste’s innovative approach to tennis apparel, including the introduction of the short-sleeved piqué fabric shirt, earned him the nickname “The Crocodile.” In 1933, Lacoste founded his own company, Lacoste, which further popularized the polo shirt.

Since then, the polo shirt has become a staple in sportswear, particularly among tennis and golf players, and has expanded to be worn in everyday life and various settings. It has been embraced by numerous brands, including Ralph Lauren, Fred Perry, Hugo Boss, and others, who have incorporated their own unique styles and designs into this timeless garment.

Overall, the polo shirt’s evolution is a testament to the fusion of different influences and the innovative spirit of individuals like René Lacoste and John Brooks. From its origins in India and the polo fields to its transformation into a fashion icon, the polo shirt continues to be a versatile and popular choice for men worldwide.

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