Are Polo Shirts Appropriate for Office Casual?


Polo shirt drawingLet’s say that you’re a guy, and that the dress code for your workplace is “business casual,” perhaps the most misinterpreted two-word phrase in modern America. You know you can where khakis, but what kind of shirt do you wear?

Maybe we should start with what kind of shirt you can’t wear:

  • You can’t wear a t-shirt;

  • You can’t wear a dress shirt with French cuffs, unless you want people to think you don’t understand the word casual;

  • You can’t really wear a western shirt with very large flowers embroidered on it. Well. maybe if you’re in Tucson, but that’s it.

Still leaves a lot of room for experimentation, doesn’t it?


The Polo Shirt

The quick and easy way to figure out what to wear is to identify males in your workplace similar to you in age and position who, to your mind, and hopefully to everyone else’s, dress well.  Then, all you have to do is to dress like they do. (Honestly, life can be so simple sometimes . . . )

But, having dispensed with this basic advice, and assuming you’re in the mood for a bit more information, let’s get to the question at hand, which is whether you can wear polo shirts – short-sleeve or long-sleeve – to the office and still be considered to be dressed appropriately.  And the official answer is, yes, you can, with the following caveats:

The polo shirt must be clean, and free of wrinkles. (This is a reasonably good rule that should be applied to all your clothing.)

Ideally, the polo shirt should be devoid of any writing, image, or logo. I recognize this advice is probably anathema to everyone sporting a little animal figure, or some other image, but really, you’re at work to work, not to be a human billboard for some clothing company.

The polo shirt should either be a solid color, or have a muted design. No six-inch-wide alternating horizontal stripes with a contrasting collar. Since you’re in a business setting, you want to try to look businesslike. 

This advice only applies to offices within the United States.  Other countries have other ideas of what’s appropriate.  In Asia, for instance, polo shirts are seen as being akin to t-shirts, and do not qualify as “smart casual,” which is the term used there.


What to Buy, Where to Buy

Naturally, which brand you choose is a matter of personal taste. Generally, descriptive adjectives like “premium” and “pima” are good for our purposes, and words like “sport,” “performance,” and “vacationland” are not. (You can still wear performance-sport-vacation shirts out of the office.) 

LL Bean’s polo shirts usually work well, and they’re usually wrinkle-free. 5.11 tactical polo shirts work well for those in law enforcement, but civilians might wonder why they need mic clips. There are certainly any number of brands in addition to these that would be suitable.


But My Office . . .

What if your office has some strange rule banning polo shirts? You could refer people to this article. We’re not the authority, but we are an authority.  Other than that, you’ll just have to be a man and save those polos for outside office hours – at least until your office gets a more enlightened boss. Finally, in answer to a question sometimes posed, yes, the polo shirt is considered to be a collared shirt.