When on holiday, a long-sleeved polo shirtor regular Oxford button-down is usually the most stylish accompaniment to shorts – see post here. However, there are times when a sportier, short-sleeved polo is more suitable. On the beach, for example, or when playing sports such as the tennis that so widely popularised it.


Buying a polo shirt, though, can be rather frustrating. Most brands, when they decide to produce one, throw out any ideas of quality and cut that they apply elsewhere. Ralph Lauren, despite my recent emotional post, produces some pretty poor polos. They are square in the body, made no better than a £10 from Primark, and retain the anachronistic long tail that was useful on horseback but is highly unflattering when most men wear them untucked.


Among the big brands, Lacoste produces probably the best, owing partly to the fact that it uses its own facilities and has its own patented knitting processes – something I discovered during a recent interview with Philippe Lacoste, grandson of René.


But the best polo shirt I have ever worn is made by Orlebar Brown. The British company is fanatical about its materials (as witnessed by its latest version of the best-selling Bulldog swimming trunk) and the polo is no exception. The piqué cotton it uses is lightweight, making it particularly breathable and easy to wear.



As to construction, the collar is made in two pieces of the same piqué, like a shirt collar, rather than the ribbed, folded strip on most high-street items. The placket is also made in two pieces, unlike the single piece normally run through a machine on cheaper items. And the gussets are reinforced with self-fabric triangle.



The cut is slim, but not restrictively slow. This is not a fashion item. A medium on me is nicely shaped through the waist, rather than being cut for an American with a particular penchant for hamburgers. The collar is also a couple of millimetres higher than a normal polo, no more. But the difference is marked and distinctly more flattering. 


Perhaps the most unusual design aspect of the Orlebar polo is its curved front and rear hems. Having never asked, I don’t whether this was intended to bridge the tucked in/tucked out wear options, but it certainly does that. The curve makes the front and back long enough to effectively tuck it in, while the short sides prevent it bunching when tucked out. Perfect.


The only thing I don’t like about the Orlebar polo is the little triangle cut out of the sleeve hem, and the rubberised button affixed just above it. There’s nothing wrong with them, but they are functionless design details and the piece would be marginally better, for me, without them.


Having said that, a big plus of the Orlebar model is that it lacks any external branding. It is meant to be a classic item – a polo improved, rather than updated.





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claudio

Lovely and about time this product is made. I too dislike the current polo ranges for the same reasons, although the brand on the seam is still an external label in my books (albeit subtle) and thus still annoying. The extra detail on the sleeves in my opinion are probably a throw back from the old school american shirts of the 60’s although loses its appeal on a polo. Love the collars!

shrink

Another good post Simon, although I’m inclined to disagree a little on the relative quality of the Ralph Lauren Polos. I have several of the custom fit models from the polo range, which are accordingly a tad more fitted than the tent-like classic line. Compared to a few other Polo’s that I have bought over the years, the RL’s hold up better to repeated washing, maintain shape style and solidity. They look as fresh as when they were new.

It’s also the little details that RL put in, such as the nicely fitted arms and the collars that are specific to each size, rather than used across the range, keeps the shirts looking proportionately correct.

Where I do, however, agree with you, is on the matter of the extra long tails on the RL’s which really mean tucked in is the only option with them. Its an odd design choice that doesnt plague the larger classic line. I have often been tempted to get a tailor to remove this feature and re-hem them the same as the front.

I will look out the brand above though, and will also check out the Lacoste shirts and see how their fit works on me.

Enjoy your new shirt!

David

Anonymous

Can you provide details about purchasing the Olebar polo shirt at wholesale for resale?

R Burridge

Like the look of this shirt, however the Riviera Polo by Sunspel takes some beating. They’ve been making clothes since 1860 and if it’s good enough for James Bond (Daniel Craig)then it’ll do for me.

RB

Anonymous

Agree completely, Simon . . . Orlebar Brown polos are great quality with superb fit. And the absence of any logos (in this day and age of the “label starved” consumer class) seals the deal for me. Three cheers for Adam Brown . . .

I find your post and knowledge very good, but your comments regarding Americans & hamburgers very offensive and lack taste and bad manners. Americans do not have a monopoly on girth. Just look around you in the UK, substituting hamburgers for pints! I know you to be better than that.

Guillaume

Hi Simon,
Can you please elaborate on the quality of the Ralph Lauren and Lacoste shirts a little, are there any specific differences you could highlight?

Many of my current polo shirts state I should dry them flat, how do most people do this? I don’t have enough surface area to do this for a regular load!

Thanks for the great blog.

Nick

Could the notch in the sleeve be a mechanism that allows the hem to slide down over a bicep more easily? I often find that the “solid” band can feel restricted when one is carrying heavy items, but a notched version slides upwards with much less restriction.

The effect may well by psychological, but it bares consideration.

Richard

Maybe they’re preparing the masses for glove suspenders? 😉

All joking aside, Simon, thanks for this article. These shirts look fantastic. Nothing annoys me more than the average quality of the polo most people have grown to accept. Personally I don’t mind the detail on the sleeve, it makes the piece unique and clearly states this isn’t just another Wal-Mart polo. Although, the quality of the material and stitching makes that pretty obvious on its own, so I can see your point about it not being necessary either.

And I can’t tell you how much I agree about your sentiment about logos on dress clothing. That’s why I would never buy a Columbia shirt, although I’ve seen a few with nice patterns that would otherwise be great to wear casually. That ugly black logo patch on the pocket is disgusting.

s

Simon,

Have you tried the polos from Abercrombie & Fitch? I know the brand as such (and the stores in particular) are horrendous, but for me they are hands down the best polos I’ve tried (better than RL, Lacoste, Gant etc).

They are very fitted (called “Muscle Fit”) which works very well for the (fairly) slim, and surprisingly well made.

S

Anonymous

Simon,
I’ve been greatly enjoying your blog for a while but am unable to find a means of sending you a question by e-mail, hopefully you will see this post. During the Diamond Jubilee service at St Paul’s, the Royals all chose to wear black waistcoats with their morning dress, rather than the less severe grey or buff; would you be able to shed any light on why they did so? Or was it merely coincidence? Many thanks.

Sofie

I really like your site, keep up the good work!

Anonymous

I have a pair of Orlebar Brown swimming shorts and, frankly, I’m not impressed. The only reason for wearing swimming shorts, as opposed to regular shorts, is if you go swimming in them. Otherwise you’re just wearing shorts with built-in underwear that need washing each time you use them.

Unfortunately, in my experience Orlebars are next to useless for swimming. Why? Because they have eschewed elasticated waistbands. Now I’ll be the first to admit that elasticated waistbands are not generally the most stylish of styles. When dry, my Orlebars look great. But there is a reason that every other swimming short on the planet is elasticated. It stops the shorts falling off when wet (since it is an inevitable rule of non-neoprene clothing that cloth will expand in water).

Instead of elastic, Orlebars have side adjusters. This has two severe disadvantages. The first is that, if you need to pull in the adjusters when wearing the shorts on land, you may find (as I do) that you have insufficient adjustment left to take in the additional slack when in the water. The second is that, unless you remember to pull in the adjusters before diving in, you run a severe risk of your shorts ending up around your ankles.

On a separate point… I am rather confused by your recommendation of a “long sleeve polo shirt or regular button-down oxford” as an accompaniment to shorts. Surely you would accept that in general, short sleeves and long trousers are a better look than long sleeves and short trousers? Once the weather is hot enough to justify shorts, it is more than hot enough to justify short sleeves. Conversely if it’s cool enough to keep your arms covered, there is no reason to expose your legs. Unless you want to look like a football player warming up by the side of the pitch.

Anonymous

Simon,

I am a regular reader of your blog – thanks for the great work. I have worn and tried a variety of polos over the years. Lacoste is clearly not what it used to be. My first ones were given to me by my father over ten years ago – those shirts survived a good four-five years of callous and cold hearted abuse. My more recent purchases didn’t last beyond two washes. Same experience with Ralph Lauren. Surprisingly, Banana Republic makes a much more durable product. I’m still using their shirts that I bought a couple years ago. I wonder if the quality of the product that Lacoste and Ralph Lauren market in the US versus elsewhere is different.

S

Simon,

Thanks. I am not sure what “well made” means really in connection with polos but my A&F polos have held up through intensive use at least as well as my Lacoste, RL and Gant polos. By this I mean that they have kept their shape (both in collar and body) and retained their colour through repeated washings at both 40 and 60c. Is there something else I also should look for with regard to “well made”?

Thanks
S

Anonymous

Go for Canali if you want to spend 100 quid on a polo. Subtle colours, range is changing all the time, and perfectly cut!

Anonymous

Do you mean that Lacoste is better than the RL polo collection? Because the RL purple collection is very high quality

jon

Hi Simon
What do you look for in terms of quality with regards to summer shorts?

Tom

Hi Simon,

based on what you wrote above I’ve decided to pull the trigger and try OB, went with Sebastian and Harris, sadly both have weirdly short sleeves sections around the armpit area. It is possible that I undersized a bit too much (went with Small), so I’ve exchanged them for a larger size and I’m awaiting the package to arrive. In the mean time I’ve found a nicely reduced (shear luck) John Smedley polo, Adrian cut, but done in merino wool. I’ve checked JS’s website and apparently they only do Adrian in sea cotton. Do you perhaps know if the merino version was an older model which was dropped in favor of the cotton material? I have to say the Adrian in merino is both a splendid fit and feel.

Regards,
Tom

Annony new

Tailored cosy fit, not spray on, smart fit.
Material appears hard wearing and great in appearance gives confidence for a long lasting item.
In my view best in navy and/or mid grey, the grey being a bit more casual.
I have bought orlebar swim shorts in the past, which are dane mark I, comfrtable and smart, though they do crease up more than id like after a few hours of wear and going in and out the pool, went for for the sky and a khaki pair, the sky pair are cool, smart and quite striking but not over the top – look at me ;0) good products all round. I find the t shirts to thin personally so head towards h&m myself for cheap but good usable t shirts

DHLeonardo

Hi Simon,

A quick asking, I know you probably like Orlebar Brown more as you’ve stated once in another article (better collar), but would it be possible for you to make a more comprehensive comparison between the signature polo lines of Sunspel and Orlebar Brown in terms of design, fitting, materials and price value?

Thanks very much.

Regards,
Leonardo

Michael

Hi Simon,
Are you talking about Sea Island polos of Andersson & Shepard?

Curtis

Simon,

Is this still your recommendation for a classic retail polo? I noticed the post was a bit dated and wanted to check.

Thanks!

Christopher

I must confess that the Polo shirt called Terry is perfect for the summer, especially for the beach or sea. After swimming it keeps you warm and comfortable.

Stephan

Dear Simon,
Just a comment hear to help other readers understand different ranges of OB polos and what to expect, from my experience.
I first bought the Andy model, which lacks the curved hems and has a shorter placket with fewer buttons, and no button on the sleeves. The same fabric for collar as for the body, that also stays up nicely, and very lightweight fabric. However, I then bought the Sebastian model that you review here and the fabric is much thicker and heavier than Andy. I’m hoping it won’t be an issue in the high summer. Also, it’s more fitted, and even size M is a bit too close to my body, which is never the case with other makers in comparable sizes (my ideal fit is Lacoste 3 classic fit). Andy size M is definitely a truer fit, albeit longer due to lack of curved hems, and more comfortable as it is a classic fit, not slim. I hope Sebastian stretches a bit over time to compensate for this. Otherwise, super happy with the design and the colour (they call the one I got ‘scuba blue’, reminiscent of Cambridge blue).

Jonathan

I’ve bought a handful of t-shirts, jumpers, polos and swim shorts from OB.

The shorts are great, but everything else just falls apart and/or loses its shape. I’m not sure what the problem is but there clearly is one.

James Peres make my favourite t’s and polos. Five year old shirts are still looking great whereas the OB ones are done after a year

TOS

Simon,
Whom would you recommend for a fairly robust short-sleeve polo? I have various Smedley ones but the Sea Island cotton is quite fine and I’m after something that has a little more heft but still looks smart. The Luca Faloni pique looks the part but I wonder if the styling may be a little short in length – whereas the Smedley is a little more classically ‘English’ in fit. Your thoughts appreciated!
All the best,

TOS

Simon,
No I haven’t tried them – yet.
Not sure they’re available in the UK, which is a shame…
Thanks again!

DKP

@Simon as this article was written some time ago, who is your current go-to for short sleeved polo shirts? Any thoughts on Sunspel vs Luca Faloni?