Riding Habit Revised a column where the best and worst of equestrian fashion and decor is reviewed with a modern edge.
Since 1972, nothing has said preppy culture and lifestyle quite so loudly as the polo shirt. That year Ralph Lauren introduced his Polo line, and while Lauren’s trademark shirt was not specifically designed for athletic use, it imitated the standard attire of polo players. Soon the smash hit line was a staple with the well to do and wannabes alike, thus seemingly forever sealing the stereotype of this traditional piece of equestrian clothing.
But for many years prior, polo shirts as we know them today were more than just the accepted uniform of the wealthy. They were true athletic gear.
Their origin begins in 19th Century India. There, British soldiers were introduced to the sport of polo, and it quickly became a favorite pastime. But they were unhappy with the uncomfortable thick, long sleeved shirts that served as traditional team attire. The first adaption the British made to the uniform was attaching their collars to the shirts with buttons that stopped them flapping while galloping on the field.
Brooks Brothers began commercially producing this look as a “polo shirt” in 1896 after president John Brooks discovered it while attending a polo match in England. Then in 1920, Argentina-based polo player, Lewis Lacey, made and sold a short-sleeved sport shirt version of the polo that was embroidered with the logo of a polo player on the left breast, which closely resembled the modern polo in many ways. The Hurlingham Polo Team wore these shirts in their 1923 season.
Meanwhile, over in the tennis world, players were also wearing cumbersome long-sleeved button-up shirts that did them no favors in competition. So René Lacoste, the French seven-time Grand Slam tennis champion, came up with a solution. He cut off the sleeves and limited the amount of buttons on his shirts, thus creating the modern polo. He debuted his new look at the 1926 U.S. Open championship, and it was such a success that soon these shirts were also being mass-produced.
Polo players found the adaptations made in the tennis world practical for horseback riding as well, and quickly adopted these “tennis shirts.” And Voila! A functional equestrian shirt was born! Now one can only assume it was because polo players looked so stellar in this adapted shirt that even tennis players ultimately took to calling the look, the “polo shirt.”
So given that polo shirts are actually a functional piece of riding attire, with origins in the sport world, it seems unfair that we counter-culture equestrians should have to give them up in order to separate ourselves from the extremely preppy that probably can’t ride a horse at all. But, it seems that we will have to give the look a facelift if we wish to set ourselves apart.
Enter Rebel Rider! Rebel Rider is a UK-based brand of riding attire, offering “a range of refreshingly different equestrian clothing fashion, especially designed for those who want something a little bit different than the normal and boring!” A quintessential element of their line is polo shirts made in colors and patterns that are a far cry from those seen on the country club set. Just check out this audacious pink and zebra polo shirt from their line!
Here’s hoping that Rebel Rider will keep up the good work, and that other will follow them in their daring endeavor to make polo shirts for the non-preppy rider, so we all can reclaim this well-adapted athletic look!