Polo shirts have dominated classic menswear in recent years. I’m no menswear historian, but I really attribute the Armoury and Ascot Chang for that fact. They “created” a polo with a semi-deep placket and a spread collar that looks great with denim and tailoring.
After that, a bunch of other designers came out with their own polos. Permanent Style introduced the Friday Polo, Eidos had the Lupo, and Berg & Berg had theirs (with an even deeper placket). Again, I could be wrong on the timeline, but that’s just what I’ve seen during my two year coverage of contemporary classic menswear.
While there are still some variations on collar design, the polos really aren’t that different than each other. There’s still 2-3 buttons, the fabric is still pique cotton, and the fit is trim. Styling wise, the polos are simply tucked into trousers and worn with soft sportcoats. They tried to distance themselves from the teacher/retail employee look hard and succeeded. Soon, it became the summer “menswear uniform” of sorts. Smaller, more #menswear bloggers advocated the use of polo shirts and the piece became widespread. Hell, we even talked about The Sartorial Polo Shirt a few times in the past.
I don’t have a problem with polos, but I have felt a need to find something new. When I was exploring to find a look that was closer to my aesthetic, I found the SJC 1930’s polo. With a three button placket, bamboo cotton, and those spearpoint collars, they were exactly what I was looking for. Then we covered the vintage sport shirt and the gaucho shirt while looking for more vintage spring/summer options, with the latter being the closest to a polo shirt in terms of design. I really wish we had more stuff similar to the plain gaucho shirts, because I love the deep placket and use of ribbing. These aren’t exactly “new” details, as they were popular in the late 1950s the 1960s and sporadically in the 80s-90s.
Plus let’s not forget that during these vintage times, polos weren’t always made of pique cotton. Some of the ones I’ve seen were knit, which I think is a little bit better than the standard pique.
Now it seems that my prayers have been answered as the knit polo shirt seems to be making a comeback. The knit fabric (either as wool or cotton) allows the fabric to drape a little bit better while still being fitted against the body. However, the best detail is now the use of ribbing on the hem that allows for a fitted look that still stretches for comfort. Basically, it allows the garment to “cinch” at the waist, maintaining that desired V torso shape. Think of it like combining the stretch and visual interest of a well fitted sweater (which has ribbing around the neck, sleeve, and bottom hem) with the design of a polo shirt. In fact, most of the knit polos that I’ve seen have come in wool rather than cotton.
Overall, it’s just something different in design that I think is a little bit more louche and slouchy than the standard polo. The ribbing around to bottom allows you to wear the polo shirt untucked and still have it look good. The knit polo has an older feel and is a bit more “vintage” since it’s not the typical one you see everyday, thanks to that fitted ribbing around the sleeves and hem. It’s not something overtly vintage like the sport shirt (which are also great spring/summer pieces), but it really slides the line between vintage and contemporary, depending on how you style it. Small details can really make a difference!
So far I’ve only seen a few ribbed polos from places like Caruso (through the Armoury), Bryceland’s (in wool), and Berg & Berg. Even though I definitely believe in paying for the details you want, I couldn’t justify spending over $100 on a polo that would seldom get wear. This was especially true since I already had my spearpoint polos from SJC that still don’t see the light of day. Eventually Uniqlo came to the rescue.
The Uniqlo Ribbed Polo
I don’t know what brought me to check out my local Westfield Mall one random sunday, but I found myself walking through the doors of their Uniqlo and being amazed. I had heard that my mall was going to be opening one and so this was my first time walking into a newly opened Uniqlo. The pieces were all in new condition and perfectly folded, but I had seen most of them before: stretch selvedge denim, linen shirts, and their contemporary graphic tees. Apart from their chambray workshirts (which I might get), I wasn’t too impressed until I came upon one particular rack that carried knit polos with ribbing. And they were only $20.
I was extremely surprised that they carried them, since mall brands aren’t really the place to shop for classic menswear (or anything that’s detail oriented). You might remember that I recommended them when I first came across the Armoury polo, as they had 3-button, spread collar models. Unfortunately, they have since reverted back to the standard two button, regular collar pieces (named the “dry polo”). Perhaps they test out these “fashion” pieces for a single season and only bring them back if they are popular! Based on the stacks still on the shelves, I don’t have much confidence in that. Even the sales associate said that these models are temporary.
After trying them on, I walked out with the navy and off-white polos, both in a size small.
Visually, they’re very similar to the ones made by Berg & Berg; you might even say they are a short sleeve cotton version of the Bryceland’s wool model. The fit is pretty true to size, having a trim yet comfortable body. The sleeves definitely hug my non-muscular arms (which will take some getting used to) but it’s not bad. For the length, it’s pretty good. I always have the option of tucking, but I like the idea of keeping the hem outside and folding the top slightly (also called “blousing”). It keeps the ribbing seen and (to me) does a better job of elongating the legs since it has a clean transition from shirt to trouser.
The fabric is 80% cotton and 20% nylon, but it doesn’t feel “fake”. The entire shirt is completely lightweight and breathable, thanks to the looser knit of the ribbed cotton. It’s a departure from pique cotton, which has a tighter weave and doesn’t have much “give”, other than the sleeves and collar. As a whole, I really like the fabric, as the tiny vertical lines from the weave give it some subtle visual interest, apart from the visible snug fit on the arms and waist (bottom hem).
My only complaint is the collar. They were washed before I started wearing them, and already I’m getting the “bacon collar”. That term basically refers to how polo shirt collars tend to curl and become misshapen with more wear. That’s probably why Ascot Chang made theirs in pique (instead of ribbed fabric) and made them as a spread collar. I used an iron to make it lay flat, but it isn’t that big of a deal.
Obviously, you could always tuck in the polo, but I’ve had a little pet peeve when wearing trousers with a belt, as I always thought that the belt adds a visual “cut” through the body. I don’t have many side tab adjuster trousers, so being able to cover the trouser waistband with the bottom of the polo really helps with elongated the legs and making the outfit look streamlined. It reminds me of how people wore sweaters back in the day. You can’t really do that with a regular polo. Even the Drake’s rugby shirt (which is similar to ap polo) worn untucked looks a little “loose” near the bottom of the body; you don’t get that with the ribbed hem on a knit polo, since it will hug your figure.
I don’t really have much new advice in terms of styling (since its a pretty classic garment that’s been reintroduced) but I maintain that the knit polo looks best with sartorial stuff. I wouldn’t really wear them with denim since it’s a bit too “delicate”, but that’s just how I personally feel. The close fit of the knit polo (emphasized by the ribbing) is best contrasted with drape-y, fuller cut trousers, which is usually found in sartorial stuff.
This outfit is probably how a majority of my outfits are going to be with the polo. It looks pretty smashing underneath a sportcoat and works as an alternative to an OCBD or linen shirt sans tie. The knit polo is worn here with my navy 1940’s jacket and the pleated wool trousers from this suit. It’s not exactly super Italian, but I made do with what I got! Pretty comfy and a good casual-sartorial outfit.
Some people like having light polos (white, yellow, light grey, and pink were seen above) but there’s something sleek about the navy polo. I think that dark colors work really well with more casual vibes, and adds a sense of “badass” ness to it. Just check out the outfit I wore to the first Gooch Collective, where a black polo was paired with a light brown checked jacket and grey trousers. It’s a similar vibe here, but with the use of a solid navy upper piece and contrasting light brown in the pant. White would be too obvious of a go to!
Honestly, I never thought I’d ever go back to wearing polo and shorts. I went to a Christian academy for 12 years and that was our uniform. However, the version I wear now is much different! Now I have a fitted (yet comfortable) ribbed cotton rather than the oversized pique that my parents bought me. And instead of long cotton/poly shorts, I get to break out my 100% cotton, gurkha shorts. These shorts are high waisted, pleated, and are cut pretty full. They’re probably much more “dad” than what I wore to school, but at least now everything is intentional.
Like the sartorial outfit before it, I decided to blouse the top of the polo over the shorts. I think it makes for a cleaner look, as the pleats “come out” from the shirt. Plus, I like the effect of the fitted waist around the top of the trouser. In general, the look reminds me of casual 1930s-1940s looks just updated a bit.
This outfit is just a casual summer outfit, similar to the gurkha shorts. These trousers are the brown versions of these Uniqlo U wide legged pants. I don’t wear them much, but it’s only recently started to heat up! I think that the fitted polo offsets the wideness of the trousers, which is a good rule of thumb to keep if you decide to experiment with similar silhouettes. The whole thing is really breezy and works for one of the few times I actually go sockless!
I know it’s dumb to show off a polo with cool body details closed up, but this is just proof that you can definitely wear them with a DB jacket. It’s definitely time to bring back the runaway collar this season!
Speaking of the runaway collar, here it is on my 1960’s plaid brooks brothers suit worn with the grey polo. I obviously couldn’t resist getting another one, seeing as the white and navy ones were so good! Honestly, I think I prefer grey over white, since its allows for a more muted contrast instead of a sharp one. It works really well with the slate blue of the suit!
Also, this is another rare sighting of sockless Ethan. These sharp suede pennys are from Loakes, but they have a slight quality control issue. The right foot has a wider heel shape than the left one, which makes them slip off pretty easily. It was an expensive mistake, but I haven’t had the heart to list them on Ebay for a loss.
Details are what separate “basic” pieces from normal items. Things like the location and shape of a lapel/gorge, the rise of a trouser, or the untipped blade of a tie are just some examples that we use to make our outfits just a little different from the rest of the world. Who would have thought that similar detailing on the polo would achieve the same thing?
We’ve already talked about the polo numerous times on the blog, whether it was the deep, spread collar one or the 1930’s spearpoint reproductions from SJC. While the former has been the menswear darling for a long time, it seems that a new iteration is finally coming out: the knit polo. Not only is this made of a stretchier, more flattering material (ribbed cotton) but it includes a ribbed hem which makes it much different than anything else out there. Sure, you could wear it tucked in, but wearing it untucked and “bloused” gives the same effect of a vintage sweater, especially when worn with high rise trousers. The ribbing hugs the waist and allows to end high up on the body, emphasizing the longness of your legs. With a deep placket and great fit, this knit polo seems to have bridged the gap between vintage and contemporary menswear.
Great options for the polo exist (like Berg & Berg or Caruso), but I’m really surprised that Uniqlo has them! They were the only ones I saw that made a spread collar version during the menswear hype for them a few years ago, and they seem to have been early adopters of this latest polo trend. Made of cotton and nylon (for stretch), they really are a great affordable way to achieve a “sartorial casual” look. You may not choose to style it the way we do, but we certainly love the vintage vibes we get from it.
Like the spread collar polo before it, this version seems to be temporary. Based on the stacks still filling the shelves at my local Uniqlo, I don’t think the mainstream fashion world likes them very much. You better buy them before they’re gone forever!
Always a pleasure,