For the polo shirt being such a basic staple of men’s style, there sure are a lot of crappy ones out there. Whether they’re old man sweatshirt-thick, boxy pique golf shirts, or goofball-young-guy polos emblazoned with enormous logos, a lot can go “wrong” on the humble polo shirt. Below is the best of the reasonably affordable crop from this year, with categorical distinctions when warranted. All in person shots are of size medium polos on a 5’10” 185 lb frame unless otherwise stated.
**BEST ULTRA CASUAL** As casual as it gets, but still a winner. The unevenness of a slub weave means that an already lightweight shirt, like this one, can get a little translucent in some parts. But, not a bad look if you’re just hanging out at a BBQ or lounging around your place. All cotton. Can’t seem to find this particular dark-blue shade online, but there are plenty of other colors to pick from. Two button placket. Nice trim fit. Always on sale, and currently 40% off during their “summer kickoff event”. No code needed here.
Strongly consider sizing down. Even though these are labeled as “slim fit”, it’s still Kohl’s. And the average Kohl’s customer probably like their things a little more roomy. Size shown is a small. These made an appearance last year, and for good reason. Super smooth & springy, all cotton fabric. Nice construction, and often super-cheap. And not much has changed, if anything. A little long, as you can see in the pic. Made in 34 different colors. Yes. 34.
Target has a few button down collar polos this year, and not all of them are equal in terms of fabric feel. This one, at 97% cotton and 3% spandex, is better than average. And the contrasting cotton chambray collar is a nice touch. Pique weave, but lightweight. Not squishy. Closer to the UNIQLO dry-fabric feel than a sponge-like golf polo, but not quite as nice as UNIQLO’s fabric. Trim fit, but a little boxy through the sides. Also available in white with the same chambray cotton collar.
**BEST NEWCOMER** What’s the difference between these and the UNIQLO button down polos? The fabric. This is more of a sleek jersey fabric, while UNIQLO has a lightweight & crisp pique. These Merona polos are also 85% polyester. But they claim that it’s engineered to dry 4x faster than cotton. Button down collar here as well. Good stretch here too, although there’s a massive jump between Small and Medium (that’s a medium shown above, which is a little big through the sides. Small was like being shrink-wrapped.) WARNING: These Merona “dry comfort” polos are NOT these 76% poly polos from Mossimo. Both have a button down collar, but the fabric couldn’t be more different. Might want to steer clear from that Mossimo option since the fabric is pretty… bad. Kinda itchy and greasy feeling at the same time. Like wearing a carpet pad.
Last year Original Penguin introduced the “Earl 2.0” with more narrow/shortened collar points, and a shorter placket. It streamlined the look and kept the collar from looking like something Peter Pan would wear. It seems like the newest arrivals of the “Earl 2.0” don’t carry that moniker anymore, yet they look more like the 2.0 than the old original version. Pretty sure they phased out the old design entirely, and now have just gone back to calling it the Earl. Same great heritage slim fit. Fun for sure, with the piping and penguin. Some sizes are on sale direct through Original Penguin, but shipping can be pricey. If you’re willing to drop the full $59 price, and have Prime, they’ll ship fast and free through Amazon.
B.R. Luxe Touch Jaspe Stripe – $32.70 or Solid Polo – $29.70 w/ BRSUMMER
One of BR’s annual staples that they’re smart to not monkey with. The “luxe touch” fabric is smooth as glass, and somehow still 100% cotton. A dressed up polo, if there is such a thing, that can be easily dressed down. More of a spread collar on these. Some claim they shrink a bit in the wash, but I’ve never personally experienced that (wash on warm or cool, tumble dry medium to low). 40% off w/ BRSUMMER through today, 5/18.
**BEST ULTRA CHEAP** Those pics above are from last year (still a size medium) because the “stretch” polos hadn’t shown up yet in-store. They certainly appear to be the same this year though. And if they are the same, they’ll be the best of the ultra-affordable. 95% cotton, 5% elastane. Nice depth to the three button placket. Super stretchy, very basic, and very… thin. It’s H&M, so quality is going to be hit & miss, but while these stretch polos are worth a shot, these all cotton polos are not. Negative. Nyet. Steer clear. The fabric is craptastic, minus the “tastic” part. Thin, scratchy, and see-through.
J. Crew Factory SLIM Jersey Polos – $17.15 + free shipping w/ ZIPZAP
JCF and its big brother J. Crew already run decently trim compared to more conservative brands, so when they make an even slimmer option, you know it’ll be a true slim. Unless you’re a serious bean pole, the JCF slim shouldn’t hang off your sides like many other polos would. Jersey construction on these, but also available in a washed pique. Extra 30% off and (this is key) free shipping no min. with ZIPZAP through today, 5/18.
Old Navy Jersey Pocket Polo – $7.19 w/ DOUBLE ($17.94)
Mega cheap, but still not half bad. 100% cotton. Fabric is a thin jersey, like a super lightweight tee. And there’s no extra reinforcement to the collar, so, expect that thing to be limp and floppy (which usually isn’t a good thing). With the stripes and the lightweight feel and the pocket, it has a sorta retro vibe going on. Something that Eric Foreman would totally wear. Code DOUBLE knocks an extra 20% off sale items (30% off reg. price) through tomorrow, 5/19.
One of the few logo-free Express polos. And boy… that placket dips pretty deep. Two buttons undone? Sure. Three? That’s iffy. Four and you’ve become an extra on Jersey Shore. Meanwhile, the fabric is great, with just enough stretch woven in for terrific movement, but watch out for hanger bumps. Those aren’t hulkazoid traps brah. Those are just bumps from taking the thing off a hanger. Often on sale.
A bit of a legend, and priced like it too. Like your collar to behave, but hate the button down look on a polo? The a Kent Wang polo might be your best bet. The collars are constructed like a woven shirt, with a collar band and a double layer of self fabric (what the body is made out of). So, none of that limp ribbed fabric that curls quicker than Elvis’s lip. Mother of pearl buttons. Slim fit.
**BEST IN SHOW** Yes. Still the best. The button down collar help keeps your collar at attention and away from limp/curling territory, and that’s just the start of what these things have going for them. Fabric is a pique-like, but super lightweight Cotton / Poly blend that really does help keep you cool and dry. There’s a bit of texture to the fabric too, so it won’t look like a short-sleeve poplin dress shirt. Fit is decently trim through the sides. Sleeves are neither too short nor too long. Unbuttoning two buttons doesn’t look too chesty, while unbuttoning just one doesn’t look too stiff. Tons of colors, and they’re often on sale.
For the record, the following brands/retailers were all explored for sourcing polos for this list, some with better luck than others: Macy’s, J. Crew, J. Crew Factory, Express, Nordstrom Rack, Old Navy, JC Penney, UNIQLO, Kohl’s, Dillard’s, H&M, Target, Amazon, Zara, and more. Got a favorite polo that didn’t make the list? Send in a style tip. They’re always welcome at: firstname.lastname@example.org