I still remember when my family returned from my fifth grade choir concert to find our kitchen swarming with shiny black carpenter ants. The memory of shrieking and climbed the counter to avoid the things crawling up my legs remains vivid. But what stands out the most is what I was wearing: a velvet skirt, Mary Janes and a truly heinous maroon polo shirt emblazoned with our school’s name.
That polo shirt. Throughout my childhood, adults shoved us kids into polo shirts to adhere to mainstream America’s arbitrary standards of appropriateness. No piece of fashion has offended me so deeply as that knitted cloth. Not just for how it looks but for its politics, for what it says about gender and class.
Polo shirts look good on nobody. The classic polo material looks and feels like an old seat belt. The sleeves are never the right length, the waist never fits correctly. Polo shirts, collars popped or not, make one look simultaneously droopy and scrawny. The polo shirt turns the wearer into an asexual lump of boring fabric.
Polo shirts were invented so tennis and polo players could keep their range of motion while still adhering to upper crust sensibilities. This was when women still had to wear floor-length dresses while playing what sports they could. Point is, polo shirts are the product of elite classism.
Polos are such a staple that in Florida, the shirts divert resources away from public infrastructure. Case in point: Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Gimenez wants to drop over a million dollars on polo shirts for county employees. This from the same county that apparently reallocated half of an $800 million transportation budget to, among other things, polo shirts. While their transit system is still massively underfunded and falling apart. What a Florida thing to do.
How deep does this polo conspiracy go? GQ, the Vogue for men, has what I can only describe as a fetish for polo shirts. From a truly unnecessary listacle of Rugby polos for your everyday life to “How to master the colour clash,” featuring a hot pink polo shirt paired with red pants. But the point here is the hot pink, not the polo. Dapper young men could just as easily make a statement in a fitted hot pink button up with long or short sleeves. They could slap a fiery orange vest over a lime green tank and it would still be a superior choice to that telltale limp collar and pique cotton.
And certainly any horrendous color combination is better than this alarming fusion of lounge and formal wear made from blankets. This is the true fate of the polo shirt: sloppy, wannabe fancy loungewear, probably worn by your weed dealer from 2002 while he babbled incessantly about who really did 9/11.
The Daily Mail recently gushed over a pic of Jeff Bezos looking like a tech DILF in a vest and tight black polo shirt. But that’s less to do with the polo and more with the bulging biceps he surely gained while stocking packages in Amazon warehouses with no bathroom breaks.
I get it. The patriarchy dictates that men (cis hetero men, anyway) stick to subdued fashions. Sartorial gambles are for women and LGBT people. So when it’s hot out, you can’t wear a cute skirt and cropped blouse and call it business casual. Polo shirts offer a breezier version of the office uniform required of men running companies and paying women less.
But I don’t care.
Men invented the patriarchy and men can tear it down just as easily by refusing to don this monstrous article. Also, it’s not like short sleeve button ups aren’t available. Nor do they only come in the mustard yellow made infamous by Dwight Schrute.
As for everyone else, you have no excuse. The whole world of fashion is open to you, with little exception. You’ve got a whole universe of cute and varied blouses, equivalent to a polo in cachet but minus the country club politics and the universally unflattering sleeves.
The utter uselessness of polo shirts is best summed up in this explanation from my cousin Seth, 34. “I’m wearing a polo shirt now, but the best that I can offer is that A) it’s hot out and B) I’m at work so probably shouldn’t wear a t-shirt. That’s sort of the sum total of my rationale.”