The ‘fashion’ of polo

jodBy Victoria Elsbury-Legg

There can hardly be a wardrobe nowadays that doesn’t feature in it a ‘polo’ shirt and probably a ‘polo’ neck of some description. Over the decades polo and equine styles have inspired many ‘looks’ in more mainstream and alternative fashion collections. For example, with roots in India dating back over a century ago, the ‘button-down’ collared shirt was worn by players in Indian polo matches where it was spotted by a fashion designer who took the style over to the USA where it became a key ‘mainstream fashion look.’

Another equine inspired look which originated from a more formal style worn particularly in Jaipur (Rajasthan) and then adopted by Indian riders for a number of centuries was jodhpurs. Distinctive in their style – flared and baggy around the top of the leg – then fitting tightly from the knee down, these trousers were originally known as ‘Churidar’ by those who wore them in India. It was around 1890 that the younger brother of the Maharaja and Prime Minister of Jodhpur State, a renowned polo player called Sir Pratap Singh, decided to adapt the ‘Jodhpur’ style of trousers to wear when playing in his successful Jodhpur Polo Team.

Sir Pratap Singh and his Jodhpur Polo Team then visited England in 1897, playing a number of matches at Hurlingham and Ranelagh wearing the new style of trousers during celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Both the style of play demonstrated by the Jodhpur Polo Team and the ‘look’ of the players on the pitch created quite a stir amongst the London ‘fashionable’ elite and British polo players. Soon Saville Row tailors were being commissioned to create a unique English version of the ‘Jodhpur’ trousers which could be worn with the more traditional long leather English riding boot. This was a look that became popular both on and off the pitch, especially amongst women in the 1920’s, as their style of riding changed and they began to ride astride instead of side-saddle. It was also a look adopted by both the British and other Cavalry units, with many officers and those in positions of authority wearing jodhpurs during both the First and Second World Wars

The style was also echoed by early 20th century movie directors on set who were keen to mark their authority, and by hunters on safari and actors portraying these roles in Hollywood movies of the era. As with so many ‘looks’ it also filtered into the fashion world, with Coco Chanel being seen in jodhpurs, and amongst others the infamous aviator of the time – Amelia Erhardt.

Jodhpurs were worn until the beginning of the 1900’s by many in the polo world until more simple white trousers took their place. The traditional colour may be the same as a century ago, but now it is most definitely ‘white jeans’ which have become the international look of choice on the polo pitch.

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