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Debate Team

The Elephant In The Room: Polo Shirts & Khakis

September 19th, 2016

A conversation about the style combo some men love and others love to hate

Brian Sacawa: I didn’t think a month-long examination of business casual would be complete without bringing up – and addressing – the topic of the polo shirt and khaki pants combination. It is so ubiquitous that I’d even venture to say that it has become a uniform of sorts for a certain segment of American men.

But it’s a combo that, while universally embraced by many, is just as universally reviled by others. What do you think is going on here?

Adam Lehman: I think you’re right, it certainly has become a uniform for a certain segment, but I don’t think that tends to be a fashion or style-oriented segment. Rather, I think it’s become the go-to for guys who have to adhere to a dress code but don’t like dressing formally.

Like, it’s for the business casual dude who doesn’t want to wear a dress shirt or tie on the job, but can’t get away with jeans and a tee. Now, that’s not to say it can’t be stylish.

Brian: Right. Not to focus on the negative, but, hey, let’s start by focusing on, um, the negative! I mean, what is so bad about a polo shirt and khakis?

Adam: To me, it’s just a bit bland. Or tends to be. A designer and/or luxe polo shirt with dress pants can be striking, but the pique polo and chinos combo just isn’t expressive at all.

KNOWLEDGE CHECK: What’s the difference between khakis and chinos?

Brian: Do you think it has something to do with the fact that it’s just kind of “easy”?

Adam: For sure. I think that’s the exact other way of saying it. It doesn’t take much thought, so I people understandably don’t tend to put a lot into it. And the results show.

Brian: I wonder where that cultural sentiment comes from in terms of it being seen almost as something of a cop out.

Adam: Good question. But maybe it just stems from the polo’s roots as just that, a uniform.

Brian: Maybe. But I feel like it’s just not seen as dressed up enough. Or maybe those who look down on it do so not simply because of the fact that it’s worn so much, by so many different people, but rather that it has sort of become the uniform of a certain type of guy? It has taken on a bit of a “bro” connotation.

Adam: Ha! I hadn’t even thought about the bro-factor, which is so true! If you look younger than working age guys and think back to college, that was totally the polo crowd – the frat guys, athletes, et al.

Brian: Right, so if we go with that, then a polo and khakis might be considered dressed up, or at least dressy enough.

Adam: For sure. Its something that meets the minimum requirements.

Brian: Oh, I like that. “Minimum requirements.” And maybe that’s what it is – it has become something of a default “dressy outfit” regardless of whether a more dressed up dress code is specified.

Adam: I think that hits the nail on the head.

Brian: I personally don’t mind the look. I’ve worn it and I’m sure you have too.


A deep placket is a simple element that can elevate a polo shirt and khaki pants outfit.

Adam: Oh, definitely. And a polo can be a really strong look if you actually do put a little thought into it.

Brian: So, let’s say that even if a guy who wears a polo shirt and khakis to something he should have dressed up more for. This is a guy who doesn’t get dressed up that often so in his mind, he’s making the effort to go above and beyond. In other words, theoretically, he’s trying. Should he be told to try harder?

Adam: I have this debate with myself often. To a large extent, I get that. While clothing and style and fashion are very important to me, that’s not to say it’s as important to other people.

Brian: And it doesn’t need to me.

Adam: Right. But at the same time, if there’s a dude out there who does care and keeps coming up with khakis and polos, I’d at least encourage him to put some more thought into it and try something new.

Brian: Ah, there’s an entirely different conversation we could have.

Adam: Totally.

Brian: Guys sort of have to come to it themselves. You or I couldn’t necessarily make that guy change his way of dressing. Maybe the significant other?

Adam: Hmmm, they just might have the power…

Brian: Okay, so just summing up here. A polo and khakis isn’t bad. But, you’ve got to be aware of the occasion and what would be acceptable.

Adam: Yes.

Brian: And we feel the main issue with the combo getting a bad rap is an over-reliance on the outfit for every dressy situation.

Adam: Absolutely. And I’d add that it’s also the complacency that tends to come with picking something that simply meets the ‘minimal requirements’. If you put thought and effort into a polo-based outfit, you can certainly end up with something great. But men too often tend not to do that.

What do you think? Chime in below!

Photography by Rob McIver Photo

Brian Sacawa

Brian Sacawa is the Founder of He Spoke Style and one of the original men’s style influencers. Since 2013, his goal has remained the same: to provide men the advice and inspiration they need to dress well, develop their personal style, and gain more confidence. Brian’s interest and passion for men’s style and luxury watches has led to his writing for The Robb Report, The Rake, and Sotheby’s and he has been quoted on menswear in publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal,, Brides Magazine, and the Huffington Post. He lives in the woods north of Baltimore with his wife, Robin, kitties Nick and Nora, and German Shepherd/Collie mix Charlie.

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