When on holiday, a long-sleeved polo shirt or regular Oxford button-down is usually the most stylish accompaniment to shorts – see post here. However, there are times when a sportier, short-sleeved polo is more suitable. On the beach, for example, or when playing sports such as the tennis that so widely popularised it.
Buying a polo shirt, though, can be rather frustrating. Most brands, when they decide to produce one, throw out any ideas of quality and cut that they apply elsewhere. Ralph Lauren, despite my recent emotional post, produces some pretty poor polos. They are square in the body, made no better than a £10 from Primark, and retain the anachronistic long tail that was useful on horseback but is highly unflattering when most men wear them untucked.
Among the big brands, Lacoste produces probably the best, owing partly to the fact that it uses its own facilities and has its own patented knitting processes – something I discovered during a recent interview with Philippe Lacoste, grandson of René.
But the best polo shirt I have ever worn is made by Orlebar Brown. The British company is fanatical about its materials (as witnessed by its latest version of the best-selling Bulldog swimming trunk) and the polo is no exception. The piqué cotton it uses is lightweight, making it particularly breathable and easy to wear.
As to construction, the collar is made in two pieces of the same piqué, like a shirt collar, rather than the ribbed, folded strip on most high-street items. The placket is also made in two pieces, unlike the single piece normally run through a machine on cheaper items. And the gussets are reinforced with self-fabric triangle.
The cut is slim, but not restrictively slow. This is not a fashion item. A medium on me is nicely shaped through the waist, rather than being cut for an American with a particular penchant for hamburgers. The collar is also a couple of millimetres higher than a normal polo, no more. But the difference is marked and distinctly more flattering.
Perhaps the most unusual design aspect of the Orlebar polo is its curved front and rear hems. Having never asked, I don’t whether this was intended to bridge the tucked in/tucked out wear options, but it certainly does that. The curve makes the front and back long enough to effectively tuck it in, while the short sides prevent it bunching when tucked out. Perfect.
The only thing I don’t like about the Orlebar polo is the little triangle cut out of the sleeve hem, and the rubberised button affixed just above it. There’s nothing wrong with them, but they are functionless design details and the piece would be marginally better, for me, without them.
Having said that, a big plus of the Orlebar model is that it lacks any external branding. It is meant to be a classic item – a polo improved, rather than updated.