The French tennis player Rene Lacoste revolutionized the attire for tennis by inventing a brand that is still famous more than 85 years later. Now, the brand is not only restricted to the tennis court – it has become a fashion statement even off the tennis court. The French Lacoste brand is well known for its high-end apparel, including footwear, bags, and even small leather goods. However, at the heart of it all is the polo shirt, founded in 1933. Lacoste’s iconic polo shirt quickly grew in popularity and became a revolutionary shirt that gave tennis players complete freedom of movement on the tennis court.
Lacoste: A Legend is Born
Between 1925 and 1929, Rene Lacoste, the Frenchman superstar tennis player, won 10 grand slam tennis tournaments:
- 5 wins at the French Internationals
- 3 wins at Wimbledon
- 2 wins at the U.S. Championships
He was also named the world’s number one tennis player. It is during this time that the polo shirt as we know it today came into existence. The original tennis attire was highly impractical – long-sleeved, button-up shirts that were usually worn with the sleeves rolled up. Unhappy with the uncomfortable design, Rene Lacoste took advantage of his status as the world's most famous tennis player to design a tennis outfit that fit his requirements. He went for something entirely different – a short-sleeved shirt with an unstarched collar and a longer back, which was given the name ‘tennis’ tail that could be tacked in easily.
1933: The Competent Sportsman
In 1926, Lacoste defied the traditional tennis wear and wore his new style in the U.S. Open championship, which he won. That moment in history made other sportsmen replace their traditional outfits with the Lacoste Tennis shirt. Even polo players took notice of this new practical but stylish shirt, and, particularly, appreciated the pique woven breathable fabric, that prevented them from getting sunburnt. Rene Lacoste retired in the early ‘30s. It was during this time that Andre Gillier, who owned one of France’s leading knitwear manufacturing company, approached Lacoste to propose a partnership to sell reproduction of the groundbreaking polo shirt. In 1933, La Chemise Lacoste was founded, donning the iconic crocodile logo. Lacoste officially launched the brand, and that’s how the legend entered the world of fashion. And if you are wondering why the crocodile logo, it was Rene’s nickname. One school of thought attributes the birth of the logo when Lacoste made a bet with the captain of the French Davis Cup team that should he win the game, they would gift him with a crocodile skin suitcase he had sported in a nearby shop. Another school of thought suggests that Lacoste decided to use the logo after the public and the media dubbed him ‘The Alligator’ due to his aggressive playing style. When he returned to France, ‘alligator’ became ‘crocodile’, hence the birth of his personal brand.
Lacoste in Colors
Until 1951, the Lacoste polo shirts were white. But in 1951, Rene had an idea – what if the polos were produced in a variety of colors? Currently, you can choose virtually any color you want. It is also during this time that he also expanded his market to America. Supported by the then economic boom, the polo shirts were marketed as “The status symbol of the competent sportsman”. They were sold at high-end stores on Madison avenues, and they were retailing at $8, a costly price at the time. Lacoste polo shirt, which was already a huge hit in the U.S., was made more popular when the then-president Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower wore one while playing golf in 1953.
The Real Birth of the Polo Shirt
It wasn’t until 1972 when Ralph Lauren came into the limelight with his new casual wear that the polo shirt really adopted the name ‘Polo-shirt’. In the 1980s, Ralph and Rene fought for supremacy of the American market, where Rene dominated. At the turn of the 1990s, polo shirts became the standard informal business wear for the high-tech industry and slowly spread to other industries. Now, virtually all menswear brand has its own creation sporting different animals like ponies (Ralph Lauren), eagles (American Eagle), and marlins (Tommy Bahama). Rene Lacoste, who passed away in 1996, left a legacy that will definitely span for generations to come.
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