Given the ubiquity of the polo shirt, it’s easy to overlook it as unremarkable.

But with the right finishing touches and some intelligent shopping choices, you can turn your polo shirt style into an entire aesthetic.

From a day of lounging with friends to hitting up a work party, this adaptable shirt covers almost any occasion.

What is a Polo Shirt?

A polo shirt (or tennis shirt) is a type of t-shirt characterized by a collar and a two or three-button placket neckline.

polo T-shirt

Polo shirts are typically short-sleeved. It’s ideal for those in-between occasions with a non-formal dress code when you can’t be casual or formal.

They come in many styles, and there are just as many ways to wear them! But their iconic fashion design bridges the gap between a button-up dress shirt and a T-shirt.

Where does the name come from? Well, polo shirts were first worn by tennis players and popularized by polo players.

Their stiff collar makes it easy to stand up, and it is initially used to protect the sportsman’s neck from the sun while playing.

They also feature small vents along the side seams near the hemline, with a longer back than front.

what is polo hem dress shirt

This hem style made it more difficult for the shirt to become untucked during play.

Different Polo Shirt Styles

Short-sleeved polo shirts are the standard. They’re suitable for many types of ensembles, from casual to cocktail outfits.

Short sleeves on your polo shirt keep this garment super versatile.

Polo shirts with long sleeves are also flexible but lean more casual or business casual.

You’ll have a bit more difficulty dressing up this shirt. However, the long sleeves are an excellent choice for warmth in winter!

The Right Fit Polo

As with many other articles of clothing, you can find polo shirts in various fits. The most common cuts for polo shirts are slim, classic, and custom.

how should a polo shirt fit

Slim-fit polo shirts are ideal for men with athletic shapes. This cut sits snugly against the torso. The hem is also a bit shorter than average, making this style a good candidate for the untucked look.

Classic fit shirts are a bit looser all over and more relaxed. These have some extra length along the hemline, making them fit for tucking.

Custom-fit polo shirts are a happy medium between the other two fits. The armholes sit a bit higher than with a classic fit, making for snug arms. It’s also tighter in the chest, but not as much as with a slim-fit shirt.

As with any dress shirt, pay close attention to the shoulders of your polo shirt. The shoulder seams should line up with the end of your shoulder blades. This indicates a good polo fit and may help you determine the best style for your shape.

Never go for a very tightly fitted polo; those only work for very muscular bodies.

Different Ways to Wear a Polo Shirt

The use and meaning of polo shirts have changed over the years. From sportswear to casual, preppy to today’s all-around go-to, it’s an essential part of any wardrobe.

When in doubt about what you should wear, it’s often a safe bet to build an outfit around your trusty polo.

Here are some ways to play with this look and wear a polo shirt:

Wear a Polo on Its Own

Sometimes, a simple polo can carry your entire outfit. You can pair it with jeans, chinos, or dress trousers; they’re all fair game!

how to wear polo shirt

The final effect is all in how you style your shirt. Leave it untucked for a carefree look, or tuck it in for a more put-together appearance.

Don’t hesitate to play with color, either. Some neutral basics are great for your dressier days, but bolder shades make a more interesting casual style.

Style Up with a Suit

Matching a polo T-shirt with a suit is a savvy way to mix and match your wardrobe, thus reducing the formality of the suit!

how to wear a grey suit with a black polo shirt

Keep in mind that tossing a suit over your polo shirt doesn’t mean you are formal.

This look is business casual at best, and it’s a definite win. Naturally, you don’t ever add a tie with a polo shirt.

Start with a black or a white polo shirt since those colors will be a great background under your suit jacket. These are the options when you want to be on the dressier side.

However, you can play with color for an unexpected way to change things up. Try a sharp contrast with a brightly colored polo shirt or a tonal look to change the effect.

Blazer and Pants with Polo

A sports coat or blazer feels like a natural partner for a polo shirt since they both have the same level of formality.

Therefore, you can replace the full suit with a different-colored blazer and pants.

wearing a blazer with a polo shirt

Matching a blazer with a polo shirt makes the outfit very balanced. It’s also the perfect way to create a very tailored style and dress up your polo.

Exchange your dark-colored pants for light ones, like off-white or beige; suddenly, it’s a smart casual outfit instead of a business casual one.

Chinos for a Preppy Look

Chinos and a polo shirt are a timeless look, the perfect blend of comfort and smartness.

LIght-colored pants and chinos make you look chic. On the other hand, darker chinos will make your outfit more on the dressy side.

Likewise, loafers highlight the preppy effect, or you can wear a pair of plain sneakers.

The buttons on your shirt can also add to the look you’re going for. All buttoned up may feel a little serious, or keep things jaunty with an open collar.

Jeans to Keep it Smart-Casual

Polo shirts go well with all washes of jeans, so you can easily toss on your light, medium, or dark jeans.

polo shirt with jeans

The darker your jeans are, the smarter your outfit is. Slim-fit jeans are also your best option.

Sneakers feel like the natural choice with jeans, so don’t shy away from them here. However, suede chukka boots make a welcome change. Leave your collar open when wearing jeans.

Shorts to Go with Casual

You can embrace the summer heat and still look dressy when you pair them with a polo shirt.

wearing a polo shirt with shorts

Keep the colors bright and busy for a more laidback and summery outfit. However, when you need to impress, stick to neutral.

Boat shoes are a great preppy choice, but espadrilles and plain sneakers are fantastic pairings. No matter which shoe you choose, embrace the sockless look.

Loafers and Sneakers for Footwear

These aren’t your only options, of course, but they tend to make the most sense. Loafers are a way to ensure you’re on the dressier side, while sneakers are mostly casual.

wearing polo shirt with sneakers

Other shoes that work depend on the rest of your ensemble. Chukka or Chelsea boots can be excellent with jeans or chinos; derby shoes are lovely with dress pants.

Polo Shirt Outfit Ideas

It’s easy to get stuck in a wardrobe rut, especially when it comes to polo shirts.

They are so basic that it’s easy to convince yourself that you don’t need to think much about them. But what if you began to look at them from a new angle?

Seersucker Sophistication

light grey seersucker suit, navy polo t-shirt, and brown suede loafers

A seersucker suit is the ideal summer classic way to dress up. Instead of the usual pastel choice, keep your suit more serious with a formal color. Navy and white are excellent for elevating this style.

Monochrome Perfection

brown blazer, beige polo, beige chinos, and brown sneakers

Neutral-colored clothing from head to toe sends a very relaxed and classy vibe. Neutral colors are not harsh but rather soothing, so they feel very tranquil. And you get the bonus effect of looking chic without appearing to try too hard.

Casual Dinner at Bay

off-white polo shirt, beige shorts, and brown loafers

When having a leisurely day by the water, it’s best to keep it simple. Pair a white top with a pair of navy shorts for summer elegance. You’ll get a sophisticated summer resort outfit that is far from sloppy.

Old Money Aesthetic

tan sweater over olive green polo shirt and white pants

You don’t need to dress extravagantly to look like you’re old money. This simple, quiet pairing with complementary colors has an understated charm telling people you don’t need to show off.

Army green and cream isn’t a common color combination, but it makes an attractive pairing.

The Rami Malek Ensemble

Rami Malek wears a burgundy suit with a light pink polo shirt and white sneakers

Incorporate some unusual colors and pairings to add a little swagger to your polo shirt outfit.

This burgundy suit and pale pink polo shirt exude confidence and fashion savvy. The shirt’s pale shade helps tone down the harshness of this suit.

Weekend Wanderer

grey polo shirt, blue jeans, and dark brown loafers

Temper your casual style to kick back when you are off the clock with a heather grey polo over jeans.

The addition of the brown accessories softens the grey shirt and makes it feel more warm and welcoming than the black ones. They also indicate your attention to detail.

Sartorial Harmony

navy blazer, olive green polo shirt, white pants, and brown suede loafers

This light green polo shirt with white pants can create a breezy and leisurely feeling. However, when you throw on a navy blazer, you aren’t just a working man but one who puts together a fantastic color palette.

Sunlit Leisure

tan blazer, cream taupe polo shirt, sand pants, and tan loafers

Dressing head to toe in cream is a hallmark of the quiet luxury aesthetic. This monochromatic outfit in a relaxed color indicates that you are here to live it up and live your best life.

Casual Elegance

white polo shirt, navy slacks, and white sneakers

Combining navy slacks with white polo and sneakers exudes a casual formality, and it’s so easy to pull off. It may be informal, but it looks so polished and clean.

Café Classic

tan suit, burgundy polo shirt, and brown sneakers

Add a dash of sophistication to your tan suit with your choice of polo shirt. The color doesn’t always need to be a pastel shade!

Incorporating a darker color, especially one in the same color family, looks mature and seriously sophisticated. This coffee polo shirt is winning.

Nautical Look

navy blazer, taupe polo shirt, blue jeans, and brown loafers

You can create a grounded, smart casual outfit with a light brown polo shirt. Pairing it with a navy blazer softens the effect and creates a down-to-earth vibe. This works exceptionally well for jeans, too.

Autumn Explorer

brown jacket, polo t-shirt, pants. and monk straps

When you aim for a soft color combination that flirts with a monochrome effect without fully embracing it, try a brown polo shirt.

As a bonus, the dark brown jacket and the monk strap shoes enhance the ensemble’s informality and uniqueness.

Helpful Tips to Style Your Polo Shirt

With a few outfits lined up and ready to go, there are just a few more things to consider before you head out the door. Remember these few pointers to keep your polo style at the top of its game.

The Collar Stays Folded

The polo shirt collar originally had an important function: to protect a tennis player’s neck from the burning sun.

different polo shirt collar placement

As it became a more ubiquitous clothing article and non-athletes embraced the fashion, hipsters in the 1980s adopted the upturned collar as a fashion choice.

This trend better stays in the past.

Don’t pop your collar, hoping for a cool effect. Instead, keep it folded down so your outfit looks smooth and pulled together.

Tucked-In vs. Untucked Polo

This is part of the beauty of a polo shirt; you can go either way on the tucking question. Your choice here depends on whether your outfit is dressy or casual.

tucked-in vs. untucked polo shirt

For example, if you are wearing jeans, decide if you are aiming for a smart casual or solidly casual style.

When the polo shirt has a longer back, it’s intended for tucking in.

You Can Button One of the Buttons

You don’t need to do up all of the shirt’s buttons completely, but don’t leave them all undone, either.

A polo tends to get a bit of a sloppy look when the buttons are completely open. Doing up, even just the bottom one, will keep a bit of structure along the shirt placket.

However, this isn’t to say don’t button all the way up. A hip and modern approach to polo shirts involves doing up all the buttons.

Choosing the Right Fabric

The original polo shirt material was cotton. Natural fibers are the best choice for comfort and for keeping your shirt fresh. Synthetic materials aren’t breathable and can get stinky as a result.

Look for polo shirts that are pique, woven, textured cotton, or a jersey material that’s smooth and lighter.

Solid Polo Shirts are More Versatile

A pattern on any shirt limits how you can wear it. For starters, stripes or other designs make the shirt less dressy and, therefore, less versatile.

It can also be harder to match your shirt to slacks and accessories because you need to factor in more colors.

Your most flexible polo shirt colors are blue, black, and white. These are suitable in most settings and are incredibly easy to build an outfit around.

No Breast Pockets on the Shirt

Polo shirt pockets aren’t quite functional since they are very small.

They can cause more distress on your shirt since they easily get pulled out of shape and saggy. This can really bring down the entire shirt.

Avoid Large Logos

You aren’t a walking billboard, so don’t dress like one. Polo shirts typically include a small brand logo, so these details may be hard to avoid.

avoid polo shirts with flashy logos

Small ones are acceptable, but large ones that immediately pull your focus come across as tacky.

Alexander Stoicoff
Author: Alexander Stoicoff

Hi, I’m Alex, and I’ve studied and specialized in styling in Rome. Through my writing, I want to help men dress well and learn the purpose and significance of suits and other formal attire. My final goal is to make men more confident in their wardrobe choice and life in general.