Before we actually answer the question of what performance polo is best, or even who makes the best performance polo, let's dive into why you'd even want to wear a performance polo!
The polo shirt's original incarnation, likely owing to the capable hands of one Rene Lacoste, came about in the twilight of the Roaring Twenties (although some historians also point to a similar design's creation in Manipur, India in the mid 1800s). With tweaks to fabric and style over the following century or so, the ubiquitous polo shirt, featuring an embroidered logo and typically pique cotton fabrication, enjoyed immense popularity among aficionados of Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers.
Under Armour, Nike, Adidas, and Reebok championed the performance material movement in the late 1990s, and synthetic fabric began to enjoy immense popularity due to its performance properties - particularly its light weight and breathe-ability. Naturally, clothing designers saw an opportunity to apply this nascent technology to new genres, and the polo shirt was the obvious guinea pig. After all, what tennis player or golfer hasn't lamented the onset of unsightly sweat marks on a hot summer day?
But what, exactly, makes a performance polo a performance polo? Let us count the ways! UPF coating? Check. Odor reduction? You betcha. Moisture-wicking properties? Like an otter!
Once upon a time, some in polite society might have frowned upon the wearing of performance polos in social settings, owing to the opinion that such athleisure wear was appropriate only on the court or the links. Today? Not so much...especially if you live in the South! With Summer's omnipresent heat as a constant threat to a man's presentability (and scent), performance polos have become both a necessity and the norm. Not to mention that Lisa Birnbach (of The Official Preppy Handbook fame) says it best: "We wear sportswear. This makes it easier to go from sporting events to social events (not that there is much difference) without changing." So suit up - in a performance polo!
Now, onto the question at hand: who makes the best performance polo, and where can I get one? Glad you asked! Here's a run-down of some of our favorite performance polos from our favorite brands.
1. The Longshanks Performance Polo by Country Club Prep
What? You didn't think we'd fail to mention our own, brand new and undeniably awesome performance polos, did you? Well, we'll do better than mention them - let's get into the merits!
Rather than start with the most technical fabric we could find or go insane trying to reinvent the wheel from a performance perspective, we decided to make a polo shirt that, above all else, just looked good. It had to be something we'd be proud to wear to dinner at the club - a polo that wouldn't sacrifice looks just to wick a few more beads of sweat. When we decided to partner with noted fabricator Horn Legend on the Longshanks Polo, we got the best of both worlds.
Not only is the Longshanks Polo available in a number of styles and colors, it's comfortable, tagless, and built with the four-way stretch that allows you to really over-swing with your driver (not that we'd ever do that). Ever have problems with your collar curling on your performance polos? Not ours! The stiffened fabric lays cleanly and flatly, just like it's been recently pressed. That means your significant other won't glare at you (too much) when you show up 2 hours late from your Saturday round. At least you'll be presentable!
We're especially fond of the navy stripe + background color combos, as they represent a modern twist on the traditional white background aesthetic. Give the Longshanks Performance Polo a whirl! We know polos, and this is one of the best.
2. The Jack Performance Pique Polo by Southern Tide
Designed around 2006, the original Skipjack polo is the product that put Southern Tide on the proverbial map. It represented a complete redesign of the classic sack polos of Ralph Lauren and Lacoste fame, featuring a more tailored cut and enough stretch to move with the wearer's lifestyle. But we aren't here to talk about the past. Let's talk about now!
As of Spring 2019, Southern Tide really has reinvented the wheel. Although the brand features a whole slew of standard performance polos like the Ryder Stripe Polo and the Feeder Stripe polo, Southern Tide set out to deliver a performance polo that doesn't look or feel like a performance polo. So what does that mean? It's just heavy cotton? NOPE. It means that they designed a polo that is virtually indistinguishable from a classic cotton pique polo, but it features all the performance elements you love.
The Jack Performance Pique Polo shirt looks like your everyday polo, even down to the texture of the fabric. There's no sheen or shine. It really just looks like cotton. That's about where the similarities between the Jack Polo and a classic polo end. It's UPF 50+ rated for sun protection, and the 96% Polyester / 4% Stretch blend allows it to dry extremely quickly and provides plenty of stretch for comfort and mobility. It's basically space-age technology masquerading as your favorite cotton pique polo. We endorse it enthusiastically.
3. The Barrett Striped Prep-Formance Polo by Johnnie-O
Johnnie-O boasts a metric ton (and probably a regular ton as well) of performance polos for your athleisure pleasure. For our money, the Barrett Striped Prep-formance polo might be the best of the bunch. Like most "performance" polos, it features elements like four-way stretch and a breathable fabric. What sets this polo apart are two key details:
First, there's no front pocket logo! We're willing to bet that, like us, you don't always want to shill for a brand when you're on the links or out to dinner. The Barrett Striped Performance Polo succeeds on its own merits - without a chest logo - relying instead on its vibrant colors, updated fit, and attractive design to win the day. Add in the UPF50 treatment and multi-tonal stripes, and you've got one of the best performance polos on the market.
4. The Gill Stripe Sankaty Polo by Vineyard Vines
Chances are, you already have a baker's dozen or so Vineyard Vines polos in your closet. With the brand's commitment to expanding the color horizons of preppy men everywhere, Vineyard Vines never shied away from going bold and bright. Luckily for us, they've taken that same degree of color-forwardness and applied it to their performance and golf polo shirts. Our current favorite is the Gill Stripe Sankaty Polo.
First of all, the self-collar is a great touch. When you have an attractive stripe on the body, there's really no good reason not to go the whole nine yards with the design. Add in 8% spandex for just the right amount of stretch, and featuring an updated performance fit, this polo is perfect for the gent who spends a little time in the gym and a lot of time on the course. If you're a reasonably fit guy, this is the polo that won't hang out and look sloppy when you tuck it into shorts, and it's long enough to stay tucked when you're flagging down a late night Uber.
5. The Bermuda Stripe Polo by Southern Marsh
You know what we hate? Sweating. You know what we hate even more? Looking like we're sweating. That's the whole point of these performance polos! The idea is to look good (and feel good) even when your playing partner is tapping out from heat exhaustion and the ice in your sweet tea melts before your first sip. It's about being cool in every sense of the word.
Not surprisingly, Southern Marsh knows a thing or two about sweat...and how to avoid it. Founders Matt Valiollahi and Stephen Smith hail from Louisiana, where it tends to be a bit humid and hot. That's why they built the Bermuda polo with a special poly-elastin fabric that gives the shirt 4-way stretch and the EXTREME (Mountain Dew level) moisture-wicking properties. On top of that, they created a brushed-interior finish, which keeps the fabric feeling comfortable and soft, regardless of the conditions.
The Bermuda polo comes in solids and stripes, but we prefer the striped versions with the tonal collar. The bimini green is a personal favorite.
Performance polos have come a long way from the days when they felt like hot wet sacks, an innovation for which we outdoorsy types are very thankful. In fact, more often than not, we reach for a performance polo every morning between the months of March and October. They're just that comfortable.
As between the polos we've highlighted in this article, the technology is comparable; your decision really should come down to style and fit. Not everyone goes for the retro color block look, especially when there are so many great striped options from which to choose.
One final word of advice; if you're planning on frequent wear, consider brushing up on the care instructions. A half cup of white vinegar every now and again can work wonders for your performance pieces.
Now that you're armed with all this great intel, here's a link to the best of the bunch. Thanks for reading!