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A History of the Polo Shirt: From the Fields to the Pulpits

20th October 2017

A fashion essential 

It may come as no surprise to you that one of Hammond & Harper’s best selling products are our fashionable clerical polo shirts.This fashion essential has found its way into the wardrobes of so many people as a result of the chameleon like quality they possess – which allows them to adapt to suit any situation. In fact, given their countless variations, they are said to be ‘the most imitated item in fashion history’.

They are common place amongst the clergy, on tennis courts, golf courses, runway fashion shows and serve as practical uniforms for those working in the service industry. They can be customised with logos, clerical collars and patterns. It is fair to say that they are understated, yet unmistakable.

We believe that the popularity of Hammond & Harper clerical polo shirts amongst clerics stems from the undeniable practically of short sleeves in the heat of summer, the gentle skin-feel of the luxurious cotton fabric and the comfortable fit our range offers. They are suitable to be worn on long summer days and fit in with the hectic schedules of clergy who have more important matters to occupy their thoughts than an ill-fitting and heavy garment.

Moreover, given the range of neutral colours on offer we make certain that our customers never look out of place in a Hammond & Harper clerical polo shirt, regardless of the occasion or the immediate surroundings. The innocuous colours we have chosen for our bespoke range allows our clerical polo shirts to be embellished and adorned with additional decorations as deemed fit by the occasion.

It is our view that clerical polo shirts allow for an agreeable compromise between the modest fashion dress discussed in bible extracts such as 1 Tim. 2:9 and the practicalities of being a member of the modern clergy. We supply a far reaching network of clergy, from Africa to America, and we are happy to see that see our clerical polo shirts are meeting a universal need for comfort and practicality.

Mens White Clerical Polo Shirt

From fields to pulpits

The unassuming polo shirt has rather interesting origins. The history of the polo shirt in its first design dates backs to the 19th century.  As you would probably imagine, the polo shirt was born on the polo field, specifically in Manipur, India, which is documented to be birthplace of its namesake sport.

Members of the British Army stationed in India at the time didn’t like the long sleeved, heavy cotton and oversized design of the original shirts. They attached new collars to the ill-fitting garments shirts to stop them flapping in their wake as they galloped around the polo field. Ultimately, this was the first step towards the mass produced polo shirt that we know and love today.

At the end of the 1900’s a member of the US firm Brooks Bros. was on a business trip in England when he came across an early design polo shirt being warn on the polo field. It was the interesting collar design that caught the attention of the businessman and continued to occupy his thoughts on his return to the US. Moreover, he resolved to make a business success out of the polo shirts that he had come across on his travels and by 1896 the design had been refined and the fashion icon was born…


The modern take

Fast forward to some time to the 1920’s and it was the French tennis legend Jean Rene Lacoste  (pictured below) who is credited with the ‘modern’ polo shirt. He refined the existing design further to improve the fit, in the hope of allowing tennis players to make marginal gains on the court.

However, what he actually achieved was more than that, as he brought us closer to the design of polo shirt that we now see everyday. He branded the polo shirt with the iconic crocodile logo, which some claim represents the first time clothing was sold with such clear branding on it.

We care about our brand here at Hammond & Harper, so we appreciate the landmark moment that Jean Rene Lacoste brought to the fashion industry. We may not outwardly brand our clerical shirts and polo shirts as he did, but we like to think you are proud to wear our brand all the same.

Subsequently, in the 50 years following the introduction of the ‘modern’ polo shirt the popularity of the American classic grew and grew. The Fred Perry, Ralph Lauren and Lacoste brands continued to battle it out for the title of the superior polo shirt. The 1990’s saw the polo shirt become informal office wear and represent affordable and comfortable work wear for those in all types of industry and professions.


 Clerical polo shirts and ubiquitous fashion 

It’s hard to gauge exactly when the polo shirt was first utilised as a clerical polo shirt. It may have been in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s when this transition occurred. But having looked through countless images, movie and television portrayals of clerics as part of this piece it is hard to pinpoint a turning point.

It may be that clerical polo shirts found themselves at the centre of the growth in popularity of polo shirts during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s…a discussion for another time?.

So there you have it, a brief history of the polo shirt. Today they are as ubiquitous as ever and we can’t see any signs of decline in the demand for high-quality clerical polo shirt