Considering Wimbledon has just flown off the proverbial racket (is this a thing people say?) let’s take a look at one of tennis’ most essential elements – the polo shirt.
Back in the 19th century, people were typically draped in ‘tennis whites’ during a match. These consisted of thick long-sleeved jersey shirts (similar to rugby shirts) and hefty flannel trousers. As you can probably guess, these weren’t exactly comfortable.
The world of tennis was a stuffy, uncomfortable affair until 1926, when big man on court René “The Crocodile” Lacoste designed a short-sleeved, piqué cotton shirt. Not only was this a massively comfortable upgrade from the tennis clobber of yore, but it also looked pretty sharp – and it wasn’t long before it outgrew the court. These days the polo shirt is a true classic of casual-wear, enjoyed in a multitude of activities.
Without further drivel, here are some films with some pretty mint polo shirts in them…
JACK LEMMON, THE ODD COUPLE – 1968
To start this one off, here’s a Lacoste polo in action, perfectly modelled by Jack Lemmon in the classic comedy The Odd Couple.
The Odd Couple is the story of two divorced men, neurotic Felix and easy-going slob Oscar, who decide to live together, even though their personalities clash. As you can probably deduce, various mismatched hijinks ensue.
The Lacoste ‘tennis shirt’ was only available in white until 1951, when Lacoste realised how the polo shirt could utilise the full potential of the rainbow, and introduced the vast range of colours they’re famous for today.
As for Lemmon in a lemon-hued polo in The Odd Couple, it’s interesting to see how rapidly the French export developed beyond the sporting realm in the United States. It quickly caught the eyes of America’s everymen, including Lemmon’s straight-laced neat freak Felix in The Odd Couple, and one wide-eyed tie-salesman from The Bronx…
LEONARDO DICAPRIO, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET – 2013
Next up, we’ve got all-American superstar Leonardo DiCaprio wearing one of Ralph Lauren’s all-American polo shirts in Martin Scorsese’s gleefully depraved The Wolf of Wall Street.
Based on the memoir by New York stockbroker and notorious scumbag Jordan Belfort, The Wolf of Wall Street recounts his Wall Street career and how his firm, Stratton Oakmont, engaged in rampant corruption and fraud, as well as Belfort’s personal acts of sexual baseness, excessive drug use and other assorted debauchery. A great one to watch while the whole family is round.
Until 1972, polo shirts were commonly referred to as ‘tennis shirts’. This was until New York native Ralph Lauren made the tennis shirt a prominent part of ‘Polo’ – Ralph’s original clothing collection. Half-inspired by the kind of garms polo players were wearing at the time, half-inspired by fancy clothiers like Brooks Brothers, Ralph created a shirt that wasn’t only bang on for afternoons on the court, but were fancy enough for high-society luncheons as well. After a while, people quickly came to know these shirts as ‘Polo’ shirts, rather than tennis shirts.
For better or worse, by the early-90s (when The Wolf of Wall Street takes place), the image of Ralph’s swanky embroidered polo player became synonymous with luxury, opulence, excess, greed, and the American Dream, which incidentally is what The Wolf of Wall Street is all about.
Couldn’t have picked better garb really…
ARNO FRISCH, FUNNY GAMES – 1997
Now we’ve got a really crisp white polo shirt and a kid with a bag over his head in Michael Haneke’s brutally brilliant, but misleadingly titled, Funny Games.
Funny Games is the not-very-funny story of two young psychopaths who hold a family hostage and torture them with a smorgasbord of violent and sadistic ‘games’, all for their own amusement. It’s one of those films adults watch while pensively stroking their chins and uttering phrases like, “It’s a nihilistic provocation regarding media violence,” and 14-year-olds watch late at night, uttering phrases like, “Dat’s dead messed up that.”
In the 2007 remake, Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet go for standard polo shirts, but in the original, Arno opts for the too-rarely-seen knitted number. Might be a little too ‘quaint’ for most serial murderers, but looks pretty exemplary on Arno here... even if he is wearing it while torturing a family.
TOM CRUISE, RISKY BUSINESS – 1983
Here’s one of the highest paid actors in in Hollywood, rocking an incredibly swanky striped polo shirt in the 80s classic romp Risky Business.
Risky Business is the story of high school senior Joel Goodsen (Cruise), who decides to cut lose while his parents are on holiday by falling in love with a prostitute, launching a Porsche into a river and turning his family home into a brothel.
At this point, the humble polo shirt had become a style staple in America, not only among the racket-wielding part of the population, but amongst the general populous as well. The shirt was especially adored by the ‘preppy’ subculture of the 80s.
Inspired by the collegiate styles of their wealthy fathers, the preps combined the Ivy League with clobber that was traditionally associated with the upper-class leisure activities of New England, such as polo, sailing, golf and tennis, with a strong focus on an affluent socioeconomic status and high-income professional success.
Needless to say, these guys wanted money by the boatload, and their manner of dress reflected their desires.
The film slyly dissects the hyper-capitalist society of the 80s, and how it warped a generation of wide-eyed, educated kids into greedy, money-making machines. Whatever you think of their ethos, it’s hard to deny that the ‘preppies’ knew their way around a slick polo shirt though…
TIMOTHÉE CHALAMET, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME – 2017
Might as well round this off full circle with a Lacoste polo. Here’s another stripy Croc-clad corker, seen here on Timothée Chalamet in Luca Guadagnino’s contemporary masterpiece Call Me by Your Name.
Set in northern Italy in 1983, Call Me by Your Name chronicles a romantic relationship between 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) and his father’s 24-year-old grad-student assistant Oliver. Creepy age difference aside, the film is massively profound, and one of my personal favourites from recent years.
Though the source novel is set in 1987, Guadagnino decided to set his film in 1983, partly to avoid the characters being affected by the corruption of the 80s, namely Reagan, Thatcher, and the AIDS crisis, but also to capture the Italy of his youth: a time where presumably everyone was listening to The Psychedelic Furs, getting involved with American archaeology graduates, and perhaps most importantly, wearing extremely crisp polo shirts.
Well, there you have it: a comprehensive history of some of the best polo shirts that have ever rocked up onto the silver screen. If you’re after a polo shirt yourself, or just looking to dress up like one of these characters for some fancy dress occasion, have a look at some more here.