I am a firm believer that suits can be dressed down. As spring has officially started here in America, it’s time to bring those sartorial pieces down a notch so you can keep cool and look good! One great and often misunderstood piece to turn your suits casual is the polo shirt. It’s no longer just for academy uniforms or baggy business casual drones.
True Vintage Roots
Polo shirts and suits (and sport coats) aren’t a business casual invention from the late 1980s and 1990’s; guys have been seen rocking the polo with their sartorial pieces since the 1930’s. Yes, they did have their start in sportswear, but they rapidly became apart of american casual wear. Their deep placket made them an invaluable piece to wear during warm weather. They even had a large collar!
In deep contrast to the polos today, these were often very fitted and hugged the arm. Here are a few of my favourite examples. Some of these are worn on their own, and some are even worn with a sport coat or suit, which is what I advocate. Either way, I think these look sharp.
Today, polo shirts have become the quintessential example of business casual and uniform wear. I had to wear polo shirts for 12 years, since I went to a Christian academy. My parents even bought me some polo shirts where they had (in addition to a bad fit) huge branding and overly bright colors. Many were cheap knock-off Polo Ralph Lauren’s or from Hollister or American Eagle.
Many polo shirts today have stingy collars and do not have a deep placket with only two buttons. Personally, I believe that a small placket is restrictive and helps (unfortunately) maintain the uniform image to me.
Ultimately, polo’s haven’t been worn with suits well among the masses for quite some time. A majority of guys still use it as a summer staple with shorts, jeans, and chinos. The idea that you can still look good with a polo and suit has been lost thanks to the dreaded “business casual” description. However, I’m here to show you that it can be done.
Wearing One Now
In order to wear a polo with sartorial clothing, you must look to the past and look out for polos like the ones of the Golden Era. This means for it to be fitted close to the body, have a longer collar, and have a deep placket.
Ditch the excessive branding and weird colors (I’m looking at you, Ralph) and stick with solids or minimal prints. By using the polo shirt like a pop over shirt or dress shirt, you’ll be one step ahead of the other guys. After you have these details down, you can combine them with different sartorial pieces in your wardrobe for a great Spring look. Don’t think of your suits, blazers, and trousers as just formal items. By using the polo, you’re able to dress them down and create entirely new and fun outfits!
As I’ve stated many times in this article, polos are perfect for warm weather. So when it gets hot, what better way to wear your white polo than with some linen suit separates! In this outfit, I decided to keep the top half solid and have some fun by wearing the linen pinstripe pants with from my Indochino DB suit. While it may not work for a conservative environment, it’s a great look for a date or lounging outside with a drink.
Linen Suit Jacket from Suit Supply, Polo Shirt from H&M,
Linen Pinstripe Suit Pants from Indochino, Loafers from Zara
Famed 1930’s menswear illustrator Laurence Fellows depicted men wearing khaki suits, longing about with sport shirts and polo shirts. The khaki suit has definitely not gone out of style and is the perfect go to as your “casual” suit. Instead of going with a solid, why not try a retro-inspired striped polo? This particular one looks a bit 1980’s, but when you wear it without the baggy pleated pants and instead use a properly tailored suit, it’s a great outfit for spring and summer.
Crosby Fit Chino Suit from J. Crew, Striped Polo from H&M, Woven Spectators from Allen Edmonds
Want to take “casually suited” to the next level? Go with linen. You can dress up a linen suit with a tie and pocket square, but that’s not what we’re doing here. In this outfit, I opted for a black polo. Now black shirts are seldom chosen out of street wear, but I think this particular one is great due to the small details: white buttons. Contrast buttons are always a cool touch and are especially vibrant for use in summer time. This is one of my favourite outfits I’ve worn in a while, especially because it looks so slick yet comfortable due to the fabrics. Heck, even my style inspiration Chad Park rocked this combo.
Linen Suit from Suit Supply, Black Polo from H&M, Suede Penny Loafers from Banana Republic
Grey Worsted Suit
This outfit was inspired by my style god Jake Grantham. A polo can even work with a suit in a more formal fabric like worsted. Again, the key to look less “1990’s business casual” and more Italian classic is to pick a well-fitting polo with a great spread collar; going sockless with loafers is a personal choice. With these two pieces, it subtly dresses down the suit into something you can definitely lounge around in. Thematically, it is very similar to the full linen suit, just in a more traditional fabric. Not many people have access to linen suits, but this is some great inspiration to try with the suits that you already own!
Vintage Ralph Lauren Suit, Polo from Uniqlo, Loafers from Allen Edmonds
The previous entries all utilized suits or pieces of suits. Now I realize many of you do not have more than one or two suits! However, blazers and trousers are an integral part of any wardrobe; these items you should have way more than two, especially if you work in some business environment. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail, but here are some of my favourite sartorial polo outfits that are crafted with stand-alone items that are not part of a suit.
Here’s even an alternate version of the Linen suit, with a brighter polo (if black shirts aren’t your thing).
Polos are a great way to get the most wear out of your suits in a fun and more casual way! Stay away from baggy ones with a small placket; I guarantee you that you’ll look like a dad that way. With a better fit and deeper placket, you can turn your preppy uniform shirt into an awesome piece to wear in warm weather. As long as you have all these details, you can wear them with your suits and blazers and not look like a middle aged business man!
Always a pleasure,
Street x Sprezza
Photography by Scott E. and Vince H.