Henley Vs Polo BATTLE – Which Is The Best Casual Shirt For Men?
In this corner:
The Henley – a unique casual option.
In that corner:
The Polo – a preppy classic you can dress up OR down.
Two classic t-shirt upgrades…
Which one is the king of casual style?
Today we’ll be staging a three-round henley vs polo fight to find out which one is perfect for you. But before we do that – let’s take a step back and look at the history of our combatants.
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Here’s a little backstory before we start the henley vs. polo battle. Both our fighters have LONG careers behind them… the polo just under 100 years old and the henley nearly 200. Have they still got what it takes?
1926. The US Open. Rene Lacoste hits the court. And what do we notice? He’s wearing the first tennis shirt – his own design. While the other players are suffering in long-sleeved dress shirts and neckties, Lacoste looks cool in a white short-sleeve shirt in a weave cotton with a soft collar.
In 1933, Lacoste retired and turned his shirt into a popular clothing brand. It caught on with polo players – but it was still called the tennis shirt. Then in 1972 Ralph Lauren came up with his ‘Polo line’. He made a copy of what the polo players were wearing and soon after it came to be called the polo shirt.
Meanwhile, golf was picking up on these shirts as well. As the game’s traditionally strict dress code became more casual in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, a lot of golf clubs started asking members to wear a ‘golf shirt‘ which is very similar to a polo shirt. The only difference is that golf shirts oftentimes have the pocket on the left and a slightly stiffer collar but the two are basically the same style.
Let’s go back to 1839. Henley-on-Thames, England, at the Henley Royal Regatta. The rowers consistently wore this particular style of shirt – so it becomes known as the Henley. The shirt caught on – but as underwear.
Again, it was Ralph Lauren who made this shirt what it is today. He was looking at some vintage shirts with one of his buyers and said, ‘I love this!’
The buyer said, ‘Well – that’s underwear.’
‘No,’ he said, ‘that’s going to be a new style of shirt.’
Ralph Lauren made both long-sleeved and short-sleeved henleys popular. They’re very similar to long- or short-sleeve t-shirts except for the placket and the focus on the buttons. There’s no collar to distract from the placket. A lot of Hollywood leading men have picked up on this – they use henleys to draw attention to the top chest area.
Shall we move on to the first round of the match, gents?
When it comes to style the polo is hard to beat. The top men in golf, tennis, and polo have been in the spotlight for almost 100 years wearing this type of shirt. We imitate those we look up to. The polo shirt has had a huge advantage over most other clothing because it’s constantly in our eye.
The polo is a very casual shirt because of the makeup of the collar, the fabric, and the short sleeves. But having a collar makes it dressier than the t-shirt or a lot of other casual shirts. So it’s definitely very stylish.
The henley is a very simple garment – there’s a lot of strength in simplicity. It allows you to show off your body if you’ve got a good build. You can also use it as a layering piece – in fact it still works just fine as underwear. It also allows you to show off your accessories – if you’re wearing a scarf, watch, or bracelet the henley is not going to distract from it.
The only area where a henley is going to draw a bit of attention to itself (especially in a sea of t-shirts) is the upper chest with the placket and the button placement. But this can be a good thing. I’ve seen some henleys highlight this area with contrasting fabric or buttons. But I would keep it pretty simple – again, there’s strength in simplicity.
Round 1 Winner: The Polo
Round 2: Options, Fabric, Patterns, And Fit
Let’s break polos down into the three different types I talked about earlier – tennis, golf, and polo shirts.
When the Polo appeared in 1926 it was 100% white piqué cotton – and often it still is. There’s not much variation in the different patterns and colors. The fabrics are mostly cotton with a few performance blends – the stretch in a blend might give you a tighter more flattering fit around your bicep/tricep area. Tennis shirts in general fit a little closer and have a longer back known as the ‘tennis tail’.
You’ll notice tennis shirts have 2-3 buttons – golf shirts oftentimes have 3-4. You’ll also find golf shirts with a pocket for holding your scorecard and maybe a pencil. They tend to be a little looser and longer so that you can more easily tuck them in.
Polo shirts are not made to be tucked in. They come in a lot of wild colors and interesting patterns because of their heritage as team uniforms.
When it comes to henley options the most common style is the long-sleeved henley. It’s a great layering piece and you can wear it by itself if you want to go more casual. Henleys are often made with cotton blends – a bit of something stretchy like spandex allows them to fit close to the body. Patterns and colors are relatively plain and simple (remember this used to be underwear.)
When it comes to overall shape and build sometimes you’ll see a raglan sleeve. A raglan sleeve is very different from what you’ll see on polo shirts – instead of being sewn on at the shoulder it goes all the way up to the neck. We often see this in baseball shirts. Raglan sleeves are going to be a bit more comfortable.
Round 2 Winner: Draw
In my opinion the polo is one of the most versatile items in a man’s wardrobe. You can dress it up with a sports jacket, blazer, or casual suit, you can dress it down with jeans or shorts. You can wear it with a wide range of items from loud colored chinos to conservative dress slacks.
When it comes to versatility the henley really doesn’t have too much range. You might just about pull off a casual sports jacket with a dark-colored henley made from a tightly woven fabric – but that would be pushing it. Wearing a collarless shirt with a sports jacket is too much like wearing a t-shirt. You can pair a henley with jeans, shorts, or chinos, but it’s not going to go with nice trousers – it’s at home in the casual range.
So the winner of Round 3 and the winner of today’s fight is:
Don’t get me wrong, gents. I love henleys – but if I had to choose I would go with the polo. It’s much more versatile, it’s got just as many options, and it’s more stylish. But I still think a henley is a great item to add dimension to your wardrobe and give you more options.
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