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 sweatshirt-thick, boxy pique, old-man golf shirts, or goofball-young-guy polos emblazoned with enormous logos, a lot can go “wrong” w/ 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” 185-190 lb frame unless otherwise stated.
UNIQLO Dri-Fit Button Down Solid, Stripe, or Print – $19.90 ($25)
YES THERE IS A NEW FIT TO THESE THINGS. Uniqlo has caught some flack for Americanizing their fit (translation: everything fits bigger), but broader fellas might actually like this switch. If you’re a true slim or downright skinny dude, this is obviously bad news. There’s noticeably more room in the chest, sleeves, and more length to the tail this year. But I wouldn’t say that’s going to be a bad thing for everyone. You might just want to try sizing down if you liked the old fit. Size shown above is a medium. Here’s what the previous medium looked like on 5’10” / 185. They’re still made out of the cotton/poly blend “Dry” fit fabric, and the above striped option has a poplin-like, shirt-fabric button down collar. The body and collars on the solid polos are made of the same material.
GAP Vintage Wash Garment Dyed Polo – $17.97 w/ HAPPY ($30)
Casual. Very casual. Kinda like a well worn polo from the 70s you could source at a thrift store, minus the potential former owner’s rank that could come with it. The “vintage wash” is nice though, as long as you’re going for something very dressed down. Feels like an old favorite. Fit is trim without being tight. Collar is on the floppy side. Laid back for sure. One step above a t-shirt.
Gap Stripe “GDry” Performance Polo – $23.97 w/ HAPPY ($40)
Hang on. Here me out here. For the guys who run really warm, wearing a jersey fabric, pique, or ultra-smooth cotton polo can leave you with swamp pits during the day. Even the UNIQLO dry fabric can hold some moisture. Didn’t see these in store, but an educated guess has these as an Under Armour or other athletic wear like fabric. Silky, lightweight, and super-breathable. 97% engineered poly and 3% spandex. So springy and flexible too. The drawback is they might look a little funny. Shiny even. But since this is GAP, perhaps they won’t be cut so huge, like other “performance” golf-style polos? Fingers crossed. Now… “GDry” sounds like a product Magic Mike would use to keep his crevasses moisture free. But that’s another story.
Kohl’s Apt. 9 “Luxury” Slim Fit Polo – $17.99 ($36)
**BEST ULTRA CHEAP** Think of these as a less-fortunate man’s Banana Republic luxe-touch polo. Not quite as smooth, but much smoother and slicker (in a good way, not a cheesy way) than a basic jersey polo. All cotton, but with how smooth and springy they are, you’d swear there was some sort of synthetic or elastane in there. Lots of colors to pick from. Pretty easy to find. Much more durable feeling than the dirt cheap options you’d find at H&M. The tail is a bit on the longer side, so if you have a short torso you might feel like you’re getting swallowed up. But it’d be a shock if anyone noticed.
Express Signature Chambray Placket Polo – $39.90
Nothing but logo-ed up polos in my local Express brick and mortar, BUT… it does appear that Express has brought back their chambray-placket “signature” logo-free polo for 2016. One of the few logo-free Express polos. Expect a trimmer fit with super-stretchy fabric. Often on sale.
JCPenney St. John’s Bay Jersey Fabric Polo – $26.00
A thoroughly “mneh” polo, but not a disaster. So not a bad bet if you just don’t have many options available to you, and don’t like to order over the web. Strongly consider at least trying a size down. Size shown above is a medium. 100% cotton on some colors, 60% cotton/40% poly on others. Chest pocket. Collar is kinda forgettable and floppy.
Kent Wang Collar Band Polos – $65.00
These are a bit of a legend, and they get a mention every year. Also, as you’d expect, they’re priced like a legend too. 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, bends, and rumples. Honest to goodness mother of pearl buttons. Slim fit.
Old Navy Jersey Contrast Chest Stripe Polo – $12.55 ($17.94)
Stripes, but with that just-different-enough contrast stripe at the upper chest. Thinner fabric, but you’d expect that from the ultra-affordable Old Navy. Good fit. Just one drawback: The collar and the ends of the sleeves are pulled off a traditional pique polo. So, ribbed and a bit heavier than the rest of the garment. Kinda feels clunky. Matching fabric would have been more than fine. (Note: Price reflects the current 30% off promo they’re running. No code needed)
J. Crew Factory SLIM Jersey Polos – $18.00
A polo nice enough at $20ish bucks that you’d wonder why anyone is buying the mainline J. Crew polos for so much more. Offered in their slimmer than most “slim” fit. Lots of colors. A basic to dump in your cart if you’re close to a free shipping threshold, and need something to push it over the line. But today? Today it ships for free with the code SRSLYSPRING. Expires today though, 4/18/16.
Old Navy Garment Dyed Jersey Polo – $12.55 ($17.94)
It’s cheap, it fits decently well, and the collars and edges to the sleeves are made of the same fabric that the body is made from. Just don’t expect it to hold up for years and years. Remember when Old Navy was boxy, school-uniform like fits? Right. This isn’t that. Slightly fitted. (Note: Price reflects the current 30% off promo they’re running. No code needed)
Target Merona Pique w/ Chambray Collar – $17.99
Pleasantly surprised with this one. It’s a pique, but doesn’t feel like you’re wearing a car-wash sponge. The collar is on the small side, but it sits great thanks to the slightly stiffer chambray fabric. Also available in white.
Target Merona Knit Print Polo – $14.99
Some guys might like this, but some of you are gonna hate it (consider me in the later category). It’s got some real retro appeal, but it feels more like a sweater than a polo shirt. And it’s 60% cotton, 40% poly. And you feel a lot of that poly. But it fits decent, it’s different, and the chambray lined collar is nice. Tread carefully with this one.
Original Penguin Earl in Heritage Slim Fit – $34.99 – $59
It’s a legend, and for good reason. Heritage slim fit isn’t too tight, but it’s far from bulky. 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. Beware: these things seem to be at risk for shrinkage in the wash. And that’s coming from a fella who rarely, if ever, shrinks anything in the wash. A bit pricey, especially considering many other brands are now making piped retro-style polos.
Lands’ End Micro Mesh Woven Collar Polo Shirt – $34.50
First the bad news: This is a true, traditional fit. But the good news is that they seem to run almost a full size large. So, sizing down might be the answer here. The button down collar and/or contrast/and or contrast collar fabric polo has become quite the thing… no? All cotton with a shirt-fabric, gingham collar. Button down at the points keeps the collar crisp and clean all day. “Micro Mesh” is a pique fabric, but much lighter weight than other polos. Pricey to start, so wait for sales. Available in multiple colors.
H&M Stretch Cotton Polo – $12.99
H&M makes one of these every year. 95% cotton, 5% elastane. Super stretchy. But goodness they are thin. That’s H&M for you though. If you can, drop in to a Kohl’s and scout the APT 9 luxury polo. Sure it’s a few more bucks, but it doesn’t feel like it’s about to self destruct like these things do. That said? They look and fit nice off the rack.
Banana Republic Luxe Touch Piped Polo – $49.50
**BEST IN SHOW** One of BR’s annual staples that they adjust ever so slightly from year to year, and they nailed it this time around with the piped option. Super smooth cotton that has an almost silky feel. This year, they’ve added a retro-inspired tipped option, that features piping along the sleeves and collar, plus a contrast, one-button placket. One button placket = just that top button, and that’s it. But fear not, the placket doesn’t dip too deep, and the collar is substantial enough to keep it from drifting too far open. Also available in a plain, solid option which has a more standard, two-button placket, as well as a button-down collar style.
UPDATE: Annnnnd they’re now sold out. At least in this contrast placket, one button style. They did just introduce another piped option, complete with a welt chest pocket. Might want to check in store for the style shown above, and fingers are crossed that they get more stock online.
The Suggestion: Try a Short Sleeve Button Down
Yes really. The short sleeve button down, worn untucked, has made a bit of a comeback these last few summers. Thanks to trimmer fits and perfect tail lengths (think mid fly), these look nothing like a short sleeve dress shirt. Because they aren’t a short sleeve dress shirt. Pictured above is GAP’s short sleve OCBD in a dot print. Nice and lightweight for the warmer weather ahead.
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, H&M, Target, 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.