You would be forgiven for thinking they were the same thing. In fact, there are a lot of similarities between these two shirts. But, they’re not exactly the same. So, what is the difference between a golf shirt and a polo shirt?
Golf shirts are usually made from polyester blends that stay dry in hot and humid weather and are of a looser fit than polo shirts. Polo shirts are more slim-fitting and are made of a pique knit material that is less quick-drying than golf shirts.
Golf shirts are designed specifically for being worn when playing golf, while polo shirts are often worn to casual events.
That’s the answer in a nutshell but read on to find out exactly how these two shirt types are different from each other.
Golf Shirt Vs Polo Shirt: Main Differences
Although subtle, there are several ways in which these two types of shirts are different from each other.
Let’s go through these here.
1. The Material
The type of material that polo shirts and golf shirts are made with is one of the most obvious differences between these two shirts.
Polo shirts tend to be made of a pique knit material, usually in cotton, or sometimes silk, merino wool, or synthetic fibers such as polyester or a blend of cotton and polyester.
Pique knit is a double layer knit, which is relatively absorbable and breathable.
Golf shirts tend to be made out of 100% polyester, or a 50-50 cotton-polyester mix, but you don’t usually find golf shirts made of a pique knit fabric.
Here’s an example of a golf shirt on Amazon:
The material that golf shirts are made of usually has some sort of moisture-wicking technology, which helps you keep cool when out playing on the course in hot or humid weather.
The fabric allows more efficient evaporation of moisture, keeping the skin dry.
The pique knit fabric that polo shirts are made in doesn’t have this same level of moisture-wicking that golf shirts do, meaning that although they are breathable they are more likely to retain moisture and remain damp for longer than golf shirts.
Some people, therefore, prefer to wear polo shirts as indoor wear, where you are less likely to sweat, and see golf shirts as more suitable for outerwear.
2. The Collar
Although less obvious, the collars on polo shirts and golf shirts have some subtle differences.
Golf shirts have collars that are double seamed, and designed to be worn folded down and flat.
The collars on golf shirts are usually made in the same material as the body of the shirt, but they can sometimes be the only part of the shirt that is made in a knit material.
Polo shirt collars are usually always made in a knit material, to match the main body of the shirt, and have single stitch seams.
Unlike golf shirts, polo shirt collars are meant to be worn standing up at the back of the neck, which can act as extra sun protection for this normally exposed area of skin.
Nowadays, some people wear polo shirt collars standing up purely as a fashion statement.
3. The Breast Pocket
There are some divided opinions about breast pocket placement when it comes to what constitutes a polo shirt or golf shirt.
In general, however, when shopping around for a polo shirt you’ll find that most of them do not have any pockets at all.
If you do find a polo shirt with a breast pocket, usually it’ll be on the right side.
Golf shirts are more likely to have a breast pocket, and this is usually on the left side.
Traditionally, this breast pocket placement had something to do with the sports these shirts were designed for, such that having something in your pocket wouldn’t affect the swing of the mallet or golf club.
Nowadays, modern golf and polo shirts have diverged away from these older designs, so you’re more likely to find shirts that don’t follow these traditional rules, leading to some differing opinions and confusion.
However, this is still another difference between polo shirts and golf shirts that you might have noticed.
4. The Sleeve Length
This difference can be hard to pick out to the untrained eye, but there is a subtle difference in sleeve length between golf and polo shirts.
Golf shirts have slightly longer length sleeves compared with polo shirts.
Polo shirt sleeves tend to come down to the middle or upper half of the bicep, whereas golf shirt sleeves hang a bit further down, closer to the elbow.
The difference is in the region of a couple of centimeters, so it’s unlikely to be a major deciding factor when choosing between the two shirt types.
But it’s a difference nonetheless.
5. The Fit
On the whole, the polo shirt style is more slim-fitting than the golf shirt style.
In addition to having slightly shorter sleeves, polo shirts have smaller armholes also, leading to a more snug fit around the bicep.
Polo shirts in general are also more slim-fitting around the chest area than golf shirts.
Some people find that golf shirts are therefore more comfortable for playing golf, as the extra room means they are less likely to restrict arm swing.
6. The Cuffs
I’ve already touched on this difference by mentioning that polo shirts have smaller armholes compared with golf shirts.
More specifically, polo shirts have cuffs that are slightly piped, and that fits snugly around the middle of the bicep.
Golf shirts, on the other hand, have cuffs that are not piped, but double-seamed and have a larger circumference than polo shirt cuffs, giving them a looser fit.
Due to the longer sleeve length, golf shirt cuffs hang a couple of centimeters lower than polo shirt cuffs.
7. Their History
An important difference between polo shirts and golf shirts is their history and how they came to be.
Up until the early 20th century, polo players were wearing Oxford cloth button-down shirts, which due to their thick material, were not the most practical on the field.
Polo shirts as they are generally known today, have their origins from sometime in the 1920s. At around this time a Canadian haberdasher, Lewis Lacey, who also happened to be a polo player, started to produce a shirt specifically for use in polo.
Ralph Lauren helped to make the polo shirt more mainstream in 1972, by marketing a tennis shirt as a polo shirt in his ‘Polo’ line.
This shirt mimicked the popular shirt style among polo players at the time, and its popularity has continued into current times.
Golf shirts have a different history.
They have evolved from what tennis shirts used to be in the second half of the 20th century. At around this time, attire for golfing became more casual, and tennis shirts were the shirt of choice to play golf.
Due to this high demand, several golf cuts of the tennis shirt were created, notably by Lacoste, and hence the golf shirt was born.
Both of these shirts were therefore created out of necessity and demand, but they had different journeys to the versions we see today.
Golf Shirt Vs Polo Shirt: How To Choose
So, now you’re aware of the main, and often subtle, differences between the golf shirt and the polo shirt.
But how do you choose between them? Here I’ll take you through some of the main factors to think about before making your purchase.
1. Indoor Vs Outdoor Wear
A question to ask yourself when choosing between a golf or polo shirt is, am I going to be wearing this indoors or outdoors?
Golf shirts, which usually have some moisture-wicking technology, can be more suitable for being outdoors when you think there is a higher chance you might sweat, or even be rained upon.
This is because the material that golf shirts are made of doesn’t hold onto moisture but lets it evaporate quickly, keeping your shirt, and you, dry.
Polo shirt fabric isn’t so good at this and tends to stay moist for longer once it’s gotten wet.
With its thicker pique knit, and often cotton-based fabric, many people see polo shirts as predominantly indoor wear these days.
So if you need a shirt that’s better suited to being worn predominantly outdoors, then the golf shirt may be the one for you.
2. Function Vs Fashion
Another factor to consider when choosing between these two shirts is whether you need a practical shirt e.g. for sport, or if you’re prioritizing style.
If you need a shirt to wear when playing golf, then you will be better off choosing a shirt that is breathable, lightweight, and doesn’t hold onto moisture.
The golf shirt meets most of these criteria, which makes sense as it has been specifically designed for playing golf.
Some golf shirts even have gussets under the arm, so that there is even more ease of movement.
On the other hand, if you are looking for a shirt that you can wear to casual events or day to day, and fashion is your priority, then a polo shirt may be the better option for you.
Polo shirts, particularly since they were advertised by Ralph Lauren, tend to be seen as more of a fashion statement instead of a sport shirt. They come in many different colors to suit most tastes.
Paired with jeans, shorts, or chinos, they can make a great-looking casual outfit.
So, as you can see, considering what you want to buy a shirt for and where you will wear it is important when choosing between a golf and polo shirt.
If you search the internet, you can probably find both golf shirts and polo shirts in the region of 40 dollars.
However, the price points between these two shirts do tend to vary a little.
A standard golf shirt usually costs around 30-40 dollars, and you might be able to find some even cheaper.
The price point of polo shirts tends to be a little higher than this, more in the region of 50-60 dollars on average, although as I said before you may be able to find cheaper deals online.
The price of polo shirts goes up significantly depending on which brand you are buying from – new Ralph Lauren polos can sell for 80-100 dollars, sometimes more.
The reason for this price point difference is probably due to the fact that polo shirts are viewed as more of a fashion choice, not just a sport shirt.
So if you’re on a budget, then you might want to opt for a golf shirt or scour the internet a little harder to find cheaper polo shirt deals.
Can I Wear A Polo Shirt To Play Golf?
You can wear a polo shirt to play golf, and many men do. However, it is less suitable than wearing a golf shirt, as polo shirts have a knit material that doesn’t evaporate sweat as quickly, and have a tighter fit which can restrict movement.
Golf shirts are better at keeping your shirt and skin dry and have a looser fit.
So, even though you can wear a polo shirt to play golf, if you have access to a golf shirt then you will likely be more comfortable during your game.
So there you have it – a rundown of golf shirts vs polo shirts. I hope that you now understand more clearly the difference between golf shirts and polo shirts.
Having this knowledge can help you make an informed decision about which shirt you will be choosing so that you can rest assured you have spent your money wisely.