There are certain items that just work well on most guys… items that stand the test of time, through passing fashions and styles.
Taking such an item and making it the centerpiece of your outfit by nailing the fit and style can elevate you above anyone else in the room, simply by using a classic piece the right way.
For the summer, it doesn’t get much more versatile or classic than a navy polo.
It’s simple. It’s understated. It can be dressed up (or dressed down), and as a young college student, wearing a well-fitting, logo-less collared shirt is one part of the equation to avoid looking like a slob.
Of course, there are other steps to getting it right, but looking good in a navy polo is classic and surprisingly easy. Its versatility lends itself to multiple outfits and situations that nearly anyone can use.
First, Nail Fit
The first step, however, is finding a polo that allows you to mix and match. That means the fit must be spot-on.
The perfect polo has sleeves that hit about mid-bicep; any longer and you run the risk of wearing an oversized, unflattering polo. And if you work out, all the better! The polo’s mid-bicep sleeve length will accentuate those hours in the gym.
The perfect length through the body tends to vary based on height, but ideally, you want a polo that’s long enough to be tucked in, but short enough that it could stand on its own.
Some polos are cut with a longer back tail, which means they should be tucked in. If the polo avoids a garish logo (personally, I stay away from those), it can be tucked into shorts without looking too preppy (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)
Polos like this one from Sunspel are able to be worn untucked or tucked in. They hit the sweet spot.
A Bit About Fabric
Fabric is another matter entirely. Pique polos are thicker, but can be dressed up more easily than a slub or cotton jersey polo, which has softer, sometimes slightly textured fabric and probably pairs more easily with jeans than chinos.
There are no hard and fast rules, but if you’re looking to dress up a polo, pique is a safer bet (but watch that logo). For maximum dressiness, look for something with a bit of sheen.
Care For Your Polo
And once you’ve picked out the ideal polo, caring for it is crucial.
As with any item, washing it too much can cause the color to fade and decrease its shelf life. If you aren’t sweating buckets and the polo doesn’t have stains on it, see if you can’t get more wears out of it (refresh it with a spray of Febreze, too).
If you’re particularly worried about washing in a machine, hand-washing is a gentler option that allows you to target specific areas.
Keeping laundry loads smaller and hang-drying the polo also helps reduce wear-and-tear.
Lastly, using a plastic hanger (sturdier than wire, more cost-effective than an expensive wooden one) or neatly folding the polo with the collar buttoned will help it retain its shape and structure.
Now, onto the outfits.
Option One (standard, everyday outfit)
The combination of a polo and khakis can go wrong in a hurry (think Best Buy salesman). But, the key is wearing a slimmer chino, and nailing the fit of the polo.
I find myself more partial to the desert boot options, but depending on the type of pants break you like, a low-cut shoe might do the trick.
Ideally, a shade of brown that contrasts with the chinos would be ideal for the shoes. If you go with a lighter shade of tan chino, dark brown suede would probably be a good color option.
The great thing about this look is the versatility; the outfit would work for a first date or, if you work in a more casual office, a polished Friday.
Note that the chinos could be switched out for a pair of jeans in, say, a sand color, if you like. Wearing this outfit near the beach is up to you.
Option Two (it’s hot out)
- Slim navy polo
- Slim shorts (in a shade like Toffee or Soft Khaki, no cargo pockets, not too long)
- Grey canvas sneakers
There’s nothing too fancy about this outfit. It’s perfect for an outdoor BBQ or grabbing a casual drink with friends.
The Lands End shorts (in a neutral palette that doesn’t clash with the polo) lets the shirt do some of the talking, and they nail the fit requirements for shorts—slimmer cut, above-the-knee.
As for the canvas sneakers, make sure they’re clean, and a white sole will actually add a nice contrast to the outfit’s darker shades. If they get beat up, that might even add some character to the outfit, if that’s your thing. As long as they’re relatively free of any logo, it will keep the outfit looking sharp.
This combination would work very nicely with a clean, simple Timex Weekender watch.
Option Three (to the beach)
It might seem a bit out of sorts to wear a polo to the beach, but when it’s time to head in from the boat or water to the local beach bar, a navy polo can keep you looking crisp without being overdressed.
Once again, fit of the polo is crucial.
If you wear a darker shade of navy, you can probably get away with wearing a more vibrant-colored swim trunk, but something in a plain shade would work just fine.
As far as beach and dock footwear goes, grey boat shoes are a classic, safe bet that could be paired with chinos or jeans in different outfits.
Option Four (the dressier option)
- Slim navy polo
- Lightweight suit (Or, an all-season wool, like the J. Crew Ludlow suit)
- Brown loafers or dress shoes
Wearing a polo under a suit is slightly tricky. If you pick a polo without a substantial enough collar, it doesn’t stand up to the test. Collar stays (made for polo shirts) can be a perfect antidote to that. And because it’s a polo and not a dress shirt, the look needs to stay sharp.
A lighter-weight linen or cotton-blend suit in something like tan or a very light grey helps ground the outfit more casually than wearing the polo under a black pinstripe suit, for example.
Depending on the season and the weave of the fabric, linen or a linen/cotton blend can pull some duty in spring and summer.
For maximum versatility, something like the Ludlow could allow this combo to be worn any time. Add in brown loafers that show some ankle, and the casual look is dialed in from head to toe.
Because the outfit is less dressy, showing some ankle could be a good way to connect the dots. Dress shoes with a subtle brogue can also help the outfit stay casual.
Wearing crazy socks ups the ante even further.
Option Five (cold weather casual)
Assuming you’ve already mastered the art of wearing slim, dark denim, a polo can be a perfect way to add some dimensionality to your layering.
Under a V-neck sweater, the polo’s minimal buttons are a change of pace from your average dress shirt. Once again, the collar must be substantial and weighty enough to stand up inside the v-neck. Contrasting the navy with a red or neutral gray sweater keeps the outfit’s colors in balance.
Worried about the navy polo clashing with dark denim? That’s what the sweater is for. And maybe you could choose some jeans in a slightly lighter wash, with some (Read: SOME) distressing if it’s a concern?
If your denim is nicely pre-worn, that’ll work, too. Desert boots in a nice wax finish add another contrasting (yet neutral) color to the overall palette.
The key with wearing a navy polo is versatility – it’s a classic item that can work in multiple situations starting in spring and working through summer. Layering can work too, under a grey linen blazer in the summer or a sweater in the fall.
Nailing fit is critical, and some of these outfits (with your own personal twists) can quickly become simple, easy go-to moves.
What do you think?
Have any suggestions for other outfits or revisions to the ones above?
What’s your favorite thing to wear with a navy polo?
Let’s hear it below!
Beau is a senior editor at The State News, Michigan State’s student newspaper. A #menswear enthusiast, Beau can be found on Twitter (@BoKnowsClothes). He also writes about men’s style at Siblings With Style.