The Knit Polo Is Taking Over Hollywood
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Last month, Chris Evans showed up to the premiere for his movie Lightyear in movie-star casual: pleated pants, loafers, and a knit shirt with a print inspired by impressionist paintings. Normally that wouldn’t be anything groundbreaking, but the impression his shirt made with customers was indicative of Evans’ Captain America star power—and, maybe, the rising stock of one very specific kind of shirt. Within minutes, 200 units of his $210 shirt, made by British upstart label Percival, sold out. A restock of 200 hit the online retailer a week later, and they too were gone after a couple hours. “It was by far the biggest day we’ve ever had,” says the brand’s founder Christopher Grove. In part, this is simply the result of Evans being a wonderful model for any label. But it’s also thanks to an absolute boom in knit polos, which seem to have replaced the omnipresent camp collar shirt. Today, knit polos aren’t just big with superstars or those who follow their red carpet swerves—they’re the shirts guys are turning to more than any other for an instant dose of leading man-level style.
The last time knit polos were this popular was during the last century, when they starred as 1950s weekend/vacation attire—think Catch Me If You Can, Goodfellas, or The Talented Mr. Ripley. For his part, Grove was inspired to make knit polos by a 1956 photo of his grandfather, a spy for MI6 who was channeling James Bond’s off-duty style before 007 ever hit the big screen.
And it seems like men are realizing there’s a reason their grandpas loved knit polos so much. In 2022, one reason the style’s popularity has seemingly exploded is because stylists like Ilaria Urbinati keep putting them on their industry-titan clients, like Evans, Ryan Reynolds, Tom Holland, and The Rock, each of whom she’s dressed in knit polos over the last year. It’s become a go-to in her arsenal in part because they possess the do-everything qualities her guys—and all men—love. “It’s a very hard-working shirt,” she says. “They look good with everything and are more put together than a pique cotton polo…If you’re in shape they show off your muscles, and if you’re not, they’re still flattering.” While in many cases she’s introduced her clients to knit polos, once they get a taste, they can’t get enough. “It’s all they want to wear,” she says. It’s no secret that the shirts have become popular with the rest of us, too: Evans, Reynolds, and Holland are precisely the guys regular dudes aspire to be. (The Rock is obviously on a planet all his own.)
For non-movie stars living in a constantly evolving “business casual” world, knit polos, especially more minimal ones by labels like John Smedley, Buck Mason, and Club Monaco, serve as can’t-miss Monday to Friday attire. Wear them with a pair of chinos and loafers to get ready to sling ideas in a meeting, or toss on a blazer when it’s deal-closing time. They don’t possess the pure vacation energy of silky camp shirts, but are similarly blank canvases when designers want to throw colors and patterns at them. In the case of the knit polo, swapping out solids for something bolder can transform an otherwise subdued conference room fit into flex-worthy night-out style. (For what it’s worth, Urbinati recommends wearing knit polos with pleated pants or chinos and steering clear of jeans, which, she says, “can look a little pedestrian” next to such an amped-up shirt) What also separates them from their open-collar counterparts is that knit polos add a third dimension for designers to experiment with: texture, which manifests in the form of cable knits, geometric motifs, or just more open-weave constructions.
Regardless of your price point, there’s knit polo for you in 2022. At the ultra high end there are the Pradas and Tom Fords, whose versions are often handcrafted with rarified materials and, when combined with top-tier brand pedigree, can run you close to a grand. For more budget-friendly versions, there’s options from Abercrombie, Express, and Banana Republic. The sweet spot has pieces from contemporary brands like Todd Snyder. “They remind me of Old Hollywood…They have this south of Italy or south of France quality to them,” says Snyder, whose namesake label is one of the biggest knit polo proprietors, at least in terms of sheer variety. (At the time of this writing, there were at least 15 versions for sale on the brand’s website.) When asked about just how popular they are with customers today, he echoes Urbinati: “Every time we introduce a new one,” he says, “Customers can’t get enough.” Snyder even teamed up with FootJoy for a version to be worn on the golf course, knit polos are even more versatile than you might’ve thought.
It’s possible that the knit polo rise is a case of simple camp shirt fatigue: after years of wacky pattern one-upmanship, it’s starting to feel like that short-sleeve button-down has jumped the shark. “[The camp shirt trend] is definitely slowing down,” says Julien DeCanali, a menswear buyer for Bergdorf Goodman, adding that the knit polo wave is really just getting started: Come Spring 2023, he says, “It’s going to be on almost every rack.” So maybe it’s just the fact that, despite their retro roots, knits feel like the new kid on the block—the next thing in a long line of men mining the past for what to wear today. But what feels most of-the-moment is that the all-logo-everything wave of recent memory is losing steam, and the pendulum is starting to swing back towards pieces that make statements in different ways. “I just think that’s what contemporary menswear is about,” says Grove. “Knowing where to push.” Even suits are feeling like fertile ground again, with every fit, color, and formality level available to guys who want to make the old look new again. Now, the pandemic probably put the final nail in the coffin of the day-to-day crisp white shirt and tie. Instead, with enviable A-listers leading the way, the knit polo is simply the perfect way to look your best and stand out—a shirt that can do everything you’d ever want it to. Well, everything just short of making you a movie star.