Men's Polo Shirts - The Ultimate Guide
A polo is a timeless menswear piece and is also a cornerstone of a man's warm-weather wardrobe.
Is a 'polo' a brand or a type of shirt?
Polo is both a brand and a type of shirt. The brand "Polo" is associated with the clothing line created by Ralph Lauren, which includes the iconic polo shirts. However, the term "polo shirt" also refers to a specific style of shirt (described in the next answer).
What is the difference between a polo shirt and a regular t-shirt?
A polo shirt typically has a collar with buttons (often referred to as a polo collar) and a placket in the front, allowing a more formal and polished look to the shirt. A regular t-shirt usually has a round neckline and no buttons or collar.
Should I wear a polo with a logo on it?
Please don’t get a shirt with a huge logo all over it.
Small logos and the same color as the rest of the shirt are passable, but if you have the option, always go logo-less.
Are men's polo shirts suitable for formal occasions?
Men's polo shirts are generally not considered suitable for formal occasions, which require smarter items such as a dress shirt or suit.
Polo shirts are more casual in nature and are typically worn in more relaxed settings but they can be also worn for business-casual dress codes, just nothing dressier than that.
Should I tuck in my polo shirt?
If you’re wearing a jacket, then you loosely tuck in the front part of the shirt by your belt buckle. The shirt should still cover the top half of your belt buckle – you don’t want to completely see the buckle. I love doing this on my clients because it breaks up the outfit when you see a little of the belt buckle and gives it a little polish without overdoing it.
If you’re wearing a polo shirt without a jacket, then only do a front tuck at the most, or leave it fully untucked.
Why should I wear a polo shirt?
A good polo shirt will enhance the good parts of your physique and hide any imperfections while making your outfit look more polished and put together.
Regardless of your age or body type, every guy needs a few polo shirts in his wardrobe.
Polo Shirt Mistakes Most Men Make
I see so many guys wearing their polos incorrectly. Please be careful about making the following mistakes:
Wearing polos with big obnoxious logos.
Logos that are small and the same color as the rest of the shirt are passable, but if you have the option, always go logo-free. You're not a billboard and no one cares about the brand of your polo.
Going too loose or too tight with the fit.
Though the sleeves should lightly hug your arms, the body of the polo shouldn't squeeze your torso to the point that it's uncomfortable or unflattering.
Wearing a polo that's overly long or too short.
Going too long or too short with the length of your polo will throw off your proportions and be unflattering. It should always end somewhere in the middle of your button to the bottom of your crotch.
Wearing a white polo (if you have dark or protruding nipples).
Always go with heather gray as your lightest color if you have dark or protruding nipples, it hides them better.
Want to see the mistakes to avoid and things you should do specifically for your age, height, body type, and skin tone? Check out my Essential Capsule Wardrobe App.
The Best Polo Shirts
Fit like a glove - not too tight, not too baggy, just right.
Enhance the good parts of your physique and hide the imperfections.
Make you look more polished and put together.
Layer incredibly well.
Only have short sleeves – long sleeved polos have no place in your wardrobe.
Black and navy should be the first colors you choose for your polo. These will give you the most versatility with the rest of your wardrobe and will work with any skin tone and body type.
After you've got these, you can go for other neutral colors (brown, olive, heather gray). If you’ve got the basic neutral colors already, definitely get some brighter colors that complement your skin tone.
I would universally avoid most stripes, plaids, or other patterns, it’s just too much and looks tacky.
Men's polos come in a selection of different fabric options:
Fabric choice is the biggest thing to consider when choosing a polo shirt and is heavily dependent on your body type. The fabric you choose will determine how good (or bad) you look in a polo shirt.
Choosing the Right Fabric For Your Body Type
If you've got an average or thin body type, you want to get cotton, silk, or similar blends.
These fabrics have a sleek, modern look that we want to cultivate.
Unless you have a dad bod (visible gut on a skinny frame), you should avoid pique cotton. The heavier weight can make you look thinner/smaller than you are.
If you've got a larger frame, then always go for pique cotton.
Piqué polos are best for heavier-set or dad-bodied men because the textured fabric hugs the body without conforming to the less flattering areas of the chest and stomach and creates an airbrushing effect.
Going with cotton, silk, or synthetic blend will only cling to your problem areas and highlight them in a super unflattering way.
How To Layer a Polo Shirt
When it comes to layering polo shirts under different items, a lot of guys get a bit confused so here's how to do it right:
DON'T: Layer Under a Sweater
A polo shirt shouldn’t be worn under a sweater as the collar of the shirt doesn’t have enough structure.
This goes for all types of sweaters – crewneck, v-neck, sweatshirt, and regular/ shawl collar cardigans.
If you do want to layer something under your sweater, stick with an Oxford dress shirt, a semi-spread collar dress shirt, or a crewneck t-shirt.
DO: Layer Under a Jacket
If you do want to add a layer over your polo shirt, try a bomber jacket, or Harrington jacket, instead.
These are better suited to the style of a polo shirt.
A blazer can be worn over a polo, but I recommend sticking to a polo that has a neat, structured collar that stays put underneath your jacket.
DON'T: Layer Over Another Shirt
Polos are not designed to be worn over other shirts like t-shirts or long-sleeve tees.
If you have to wear an undershirt for hygiene reasons, make sure it's a v-neck and fits tightly so as not to show through or create any wrinkles you can see through the polo's fabric.
How a Polo Shirt Should Fit
Make sure that the collar isn't too small or too floppy/wrinkled.
The shoulder seam ends where the shoulder starts sloping down.**
Leaving the top 1-2 buttons unbuttoned looks great and frames your face better.
You shouldn’t be able to pinch more than 0.5 to 1 inch (1.25-2.5cm) of fabric on the back of your tricep.*
Pinch no more than 1-2 inches (2.5-5cm) of fabric on either side of your belly.**
The bottom should stop somewhere between 1-2 inches (2.5-5cm) past your belt buckle. If your belly shows when lifting your arms, go a little longer.*
* Cheap & easy to tailor.
** Expensive & hard to tailor. Best to find a brand that fits better here off the rack.
To Tuck Or Not To Tuck?
By itself, with or without a belt: Half tuck.
Under a sweater: Never wear a polo under a sweater.
Under a casual jacket or coat (bomber, trucker, workshirt, peacoat, etc.), with or without a belt: Half tuck.
If the shirt bottom is sticking out past the bottom of the jacket: Half or full tuck to hide it.
Business casual: Full tuck.
A Note On Tails:
Polo shirts were originally designed to be longer at the back, resulting in a tail (AKA a 'tennis tail').
This contributed to their sporty appearance.
However, most modern designers are getting rid of tails, which for me is a plus because I don’t really like them anyway.
If your polo has a tail, make sure the back part is no more than 2 inches longer than the front.
Even then, I’d always advise you to get a polo without a tail, because 99.9% of the time it doesn’t look great.
Navy and tan is one of the best color combos and the mixture of light and dark works really well in this outfit. Smarten it up with some loafers or throw on a bomber if you want to add another layer.
For more polo-shirt outfit inspiration, be sure to check out my Essential Capsule Wardrobe App.
As shown here, polos and chinos are a match made in style heaven. To dress up this look, swap out the pants for dark wash jeans or blue or gray wool trousers (if it's not too hot out), and change the sneakers for a pair of loafers or dress shoes in either brown or black.
Wearing a polo with a suit is totally allowed and this navy version balances out the darkness of the charcoal really nicely. To smarten this up even further, I'd swap out crew socks for a no-show pair.