The polo coat as worn by Giovanni Agnelli.
The polo coat is one of many items in the masculine wardrobe that derive from the ancient sport brought to the West by British officers stationed in India during the nineteenth century. Among the other items, we might make note of the button-down collared shirt (buttoned down to keep the points from flapping in the face when riding fast), the polo sweater (which we call a turtleneck), the jodhpurs (named for the Maharaja of Jodhpur), chukka boots (a “chukker” is a period of play), the wide surcingle polo belt and the ubiquitous knit polo shirt (which, ironically, was made popular by a French tennis star).
And then there is that most aristo of outer coats: the double-breasted, set-in sleeve, patch-pocketed, half-belted, camel-hair polo coat. Perhaps its appeal derives from its ability to adapt to any mood, to dress up or down, and be equally at home with a chalk-striped flannel suit or a shetland sweater and chinos. Some men are even able to carry off a polo coat with evening wear, but this is a nameless grace that no method can teach.
The polo coat originally started out as a simple camel hair, blanket-like wrap coat—something players threw over their shoulders like a bathrobe while waiting to resume play. As such, it was initially called a wait coat. In the 1920s, when English polo players were first invited to matches on Long Island, the grand deshabille and swagger of these coats didn’t go unnoticed, and they were soon seen on Eastern-establishment campuses. By 1930, polo coats outnumbered raccoon at the Yale-Princeton football game—a decided stamp of approval.
In case you were wondering, the camel hair doesn’t come from just any old camel: only the bactrian (two-humped) camel native to central and southwest Asia will do. Its delicate underhair perfectly combines warmth, lightness and beauty with luxurious softness.
- G. Bruce Boyer, Coats of Arms: From the Utilarian Apparel of Both War and Peace Comes Classic Outerwear. Published in Cigar Aficionado, the Michael Richards issue, Sep/Oct 1997.