With summer now well and truly upon us, we thought it would be a good time to revisit the design philosophy, history, inspiration and wearability of one of our favourite spring summer pieces, the cashmere silk tennis polo shirt.
The Polo Shirt’s Story – How It All Began
As a knitwear brand, much of our offering is best suited to the colder months and so we wanted to create something that has the same cosy softness and ease of wear as knitwear, but that was lighter and more comfortable for the spring and summer time.
The polo shirt is now ubiquitous, seen everywhere from the golf course to the classroom. In recent years it has perhaps developed a relatively bad reputation for being a bland, mass-produced item of clothing, exacerbated by it often being worn in a way that doesn’t flatter the wearer’s physique, and associated with a dowdy style of dress. As a result, it is now often looked down upon within fashion circles and we wanted to change this by reinventing it - the challenge we set for ourselves when coming up with the cashmere silk tennis polo. After all, at its core, the polo shirt, when designed right, makes for the perfect spring summer piece.
The polo shirt originated in India back in the 1800s. It was worn by polo players on horseback and looks very different to the polo shirt we know today – they would have been closer to a long sleeve cotton shirt, with the shirt collars pinned or buttoned down to keep them from flapping.
Left: the original polo uniform
Right: polo in India
The modern polo, as we now know, was originally worn by tennis players. Tennis was previously a sport for the wealthy upper classes and with this came a rigid uniform of long sleeve shirts and flannel trousers. This uniform was restrictive and uncomfortable for many players. René Lacoste designed a shirt with short sleeves, a flat collar and a buttoned placket which he wore at the US Open in 1926.
Buddy Austin and René Lacoste, 1928
Here in the UK the style was famously worn by Fred Perry, a player known for his ferocious speed, because he hated the way the long sleeved shirts restricted his play. Find out more about this in our earlier article here.
Left: Fred Perry and Pat Hughes, Australia 1934
Right: Fred Perry in action
Both players went on to found renowned brands specialising in the polo shirt. We took the original tennis shirt and used it as inspiration for our own design.
Fit and Design
There were several things we wanted to change with our version of the polo shirt that would differ from the usual polo shirt you would be familiar with today. When you look back at the early and original versions, the sleeves are fairly long in comparison with what we see now. Looking at images of Fred Perry and René Lacoste in their tennis shirts, we felt the longer sleeve was a much more elegant and sophisticated look.
Left: René Lacoste in an early Lacoste knitted polo shirt
Right: Fred Perry in his signature polo shirt he adopted for tennis matches
We wanted to adopt this style, too, and break away from the typical mid-bicep length that is prevalent in the market today.
We’ve added a ribbed hem which means even if the wearer doesn’t tuck in the shirt, it will still sit neatly on the waist. This slight alteration means the shirt is flattering on all figures. Without the ribbed hem, the length of polo shirts can be unforgiving and can sometimes drown the wearer.
Finally, a ribbed cuff on the sleeve wraps snugly around the bicep bringing the sleeve closer to the arm. The ribbed cuff has a similar effect to the ribbed hem, allowing for a better fit and neater look overall. Short sleeves without the ribbing can jut out and create an unflattering triangle shape on the arms, which we wanted to avoid.
Each of the design features we’ve chosen contribute to creating a more sophisticated look as well as a more flattering one for all body shapes. This relates back to our philosophy of buying fewer, higher quality pieces that you can wear over and over, and even hand down through the family. Today, many brands offer collections inspired by mainstream trends that don’t necessarily suit everyone and it is down to the customer to be in a certain shape that makes the piece look good. If it doesn’t the piece is then often destined for landfill. By creating garments with these discreet, but considered alterations, we can ensure our pieces complement different body shapes and will continue to look good regardless of high street trends. We believe that clothes should be designed and made to flatter the wearer, not the other way round.
Our polo shirt is made from an incredibly soft blend of cashmere silk - 70% cashmere and 30% silk. This combination creates an exceptional fabric that’s luxuriously soft to the touch, yet strong and robust too. The blend feels even finer than pure cashmere and much more lightweight, making it perfect for summer. We source our cashmere silk from Cariaggi Lanificio, Italian spinners that have specialised in the production of cashmere and cashmere blend yarns since the fifties.
Cashmere isn’t a material that comes to mind when most people think of spring or summer and it can be difficult to convince people to wear it in the warmer weather. But, as a natural fibre, it is temperature regulating, meaning it keeps you cool when it’s warm and warm when it’s cold. Of course, blended with silk, the overall fabric that is created make it even more breathable – so you get the luscious spongey softness of cashmere but the lightweightness and breathability of silk. It’s also worth noting that silk is a popular fabric in many parts of Asia precisely because the climate is very warm (China and India being two countries with a long history of silk production and usage).
All Colhay’s garments are knitted in Hawick, the home of Scottish knitwear. In Hawick, knitting is a craft that has been nurtured through generations. In the factories we work with, traditional techniques are honoured and speed is never favoured over quality. The knitters we work with have unrivalled knowledge, skills and experience, making the craftspeople there some of the most coveted knitwear makers by the world's most prestigious luxury brands.
As standard, all of our garments are tightly knitted, this means fewer gaps and stronger, more robust pieces of knitwear. Our pieces are also handlinked. This means that the components of the shirt, sweater or cardigan are knitted separately before being linked together. This is a traditional technique that results in more durable pieces that don’t lose their shape after wearing and washing. Today a lot of knitwear is made by templates of items being cut from one large piece of fabric, which is a far quicker and cheaper process, but produces flimsy knitwear that can go out of shape very quickly and therefore does not align with our company philosophy.
For all of our garments, we pursue techniques that are best for a particular aspect of that piece of knitwear to ensure the highest quality. With this polo shirt, for example, the knitters have used a Milano stitch on the collar. This stitch uses a lot more yarn than normal and gives the collar some firmness. The stitch means the fabric has a little more structure so that the collar sits nicely under a jacket, and won’t flatten.
How to Wear
Our cashmere polo shirt is incredibly versatile, lending itself well to many occasions. As mentioned above, it’s a great piece for the spring and summer time, but can just as easily work in cooler weather too when layered with other pieces.
Soft and comfortable, it has been designed as an easy to wear piece that can be dressed up or down. Given the soft fabric, it drapes in a slightly relaxed way but the ribbed cuffs and hem hold the overall shape so that there isn't too much loose fabric.
For a casual look, it works with jeans, but equally suits being worn as a substitute for a shirt for more formal occasions. We’ve chosen three colourways: cream, navy and dark brown, each chosen because they work well with colours that you’re already likely to find in your wardrobe. If you’re looking for styling inspiration, take a look at our lookbooks here.
Discover more of our collection of cashmere silk tennis polo shirts.