For some people, the 1980s was all about punk and rebelliousness. But the decade was also marked by the reign of anti-labor leaders Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, when nighttime soap operas such as Dallas and Falcon Crest ruled the TV airwaves along with semi-documentary shows like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
Now this was the world in which the Lacoste brand fit right in. With the collars carelessly popped up, this was the signature look of the preppies, along with the sweater draped around the shoulders and of course, who can forget the boat shoes?
Classic Lacoste Style
Birth of the Lacoste Shirt
Part of the charm of the Lacoste Shirt is its history, which just about every true-blue preppie is familiar with (or at least pretends to be). René Lacoste ruled the tennis world back in the 1920s, ranking #1 in 1926 and 1927. His career included 7 Grand Slam championships.
René “The Crocodile” Lacoste
But Lacoste was not enamored with the tennis attire at the time. It may be hard to imagine now, but during that time the tennis shirt didn’t just have to be white, it also needed long sleeves and a tie, along with a pair of trousers. Lacoste felt it was too heavy and restrictive for the sport.
At the time, the polo shirt was already in existence. It was actually used by British polo players in India, and the name “polo shirt” stuck when John Brooks, who was the grandson of the founder of Brooks Brothers, saw the shirts back in the late 1800s and brought the style to the US.
According to an interview in People Magazine, Lacoste noticed his friend the Marquis of Cholmondeley wearing a polo shirt on the tennis court. He realized that the notion was quite practical, so he had an English tailor produce a few polo shirts in both wool and cotton. He wore the polo shirt for the first time in the 1926 US Open in New York City.
In 1927, the US media called him an Alligator, not just because of his athletic courage but also because he was athletically brave. When he went back to France, it was translated as “Crocodile” and that became his nickname. Lacoste embraced the nickname so much that the image of the Crocodile became his own personal brand.
He had the logo placed on his shirts, and then after he retired from tennis he marketed the shirt as “the status symbol of the competent sportsman”.
Lacoste Dominated Tennis Fashion In The 1980s
The 1980s Fad
So why did it become so famous back in the 1980s? Lacoste had been around for decades before it reached its height of popularity when it began showing up regularly in 80s TV shows and movies. It wasn’t just because James Spader was wearing the preppie look in many movies. Movie legends like Clint Eastwood had long rocked Lacoste as a top choice of polo, however in the 80s things finally began to kick up into full throttle.
Clint Eastwood Rockin A Signature “Lacoste Shirt”
The Lacoste shirt further rose to popularity because of the popularity of the “Official Preppy Handbook”, which detailed why the Lacoste shirt was crucial for the Preppy look.
“The Official Preppy Handbook” 1980
Essentially, the Lacoste Shirts was the look of the New England trust fund babies, and it implied sophistication, wealth, and a drive to succeed. Rich smart kids played tennis, after all. Kids who wore the preppy look were bound for college, while the thinking of the time was that the punk kids were the ones who would be pumping gas and serving fries later in life.
Lacoste Style Circa 1985
So what about the upturned collar? That was to imply that the wearer of the Lacoste shirt “didn’t care” about looks.
The “upturned collar” Lacoste Shirt being rocked on the “Carrie Diaries”
Today, the Lacoste Shirt Legacy is intact. Numerous brands still put in animal logos on their shirts today. It wouldn’t last long—the grunge look of the 1990s saw to that—but for some people, the quality, simplicity, and affluence that Lacoste Shirt symbolized never really went out of style.