The Almighty Allure of Polo by Ralph Lauren…

I can remember the first day I ever WANTED to wear a piece of Ralph Lauren clothing. I was with a group of friends on the subway heading to Manhattan one morning on the way to high school. I spotted a teenager in the car next to ours wearing a color-blocked windbreaker. The vibrant colors of the jacket resembled the packaging from the Lifesavers candy roll. Everything else in my eyesight turned to grayscale as I went into hunter mode to acquire the jacket.

When the R train pulled into Lexington Avenue I went after the dude like a wild animal. I ran down the morning rush hour platform with reckless abandon, people screaming in my wake as they were almost pushed onto the train tracks. I chased dude up the escalator, nearly knocking people over the edge as I pursued him relentlessly. The kid in the windbreaker jacket disappeared from me at the landing, but my obsession with Polo by Ralph Lauren has stayed with me since.

This was in 1986 and here I stand 25 years later with over 1000 pieces of Polo by Ralph Lauren clothing and gear in my archives. What made me give over half of my life (and frankly, over half my net wealth) to the loyalty of this brand? It is more than Ralph Lauren’s slick marketing efforts which describe his Polo brand as the ultimate in luxury lifestyle apparel. It is that kid’s efforts, and mine, and all Black kid’s efforts to RETAIN the Polo pieces they wore on their backs. This was the New York City I grew up in.

There are plenty of pleasant things to remember about growing up in the 1980’s inside of the world’s greatest city. The New York Knicks drafted Patrick Ewing and he even had a dope signature sneaker, by adidas. The Metropolitans baseball team won a world title. The Cosby Show described Black excellence, in Brooklyn no less. Copping tags on the subway was too risky, but you could bomb every streetlight base or sidewalk surface until your heart was content. Crack cocaine dominated the police blotters and the newsreels, but that could be avoided.

In the mid-1980s New York City had two(2) Hip-Hop performance clubs where I spent my weekends partying with friends. Union Square was a dance hall located at the north end of the venerable park of the same name, and the Latin Quarter, which was no longer the hotspot for big bands and tango dancing but for Red Alert, rap music, and kids doing the Wop.

On those nights you wore your best clothing to the ball. Polo rugbys, knits shirts and windbreakers were the height of fashion, as were Guess denim and leather suits and Fila tracksuits crafted in velour. But Polo by Ralph Lauren clothing was the most vibrant and eye-catching of them all. The materials used for the royal blues, racer reds and nautical yellows seemed to carry their own electricity, and in turn were an invitation for others to attempt to take them from you through horrible violence.

I was never ‘stripped’ of my clothing as some of party goers experienced routinely in the clubs or, more likely, on the streets outside of the clubs. Times Square was no joke back then and most kids my age rolled deep to protect one another and to also take advantage of someone who might not have the numbers, but have the items, we wanted to possess. I now realize how so much of my idea of manhood was intertwined with the things I wore. Like the Gucci jacket I bought from the flagship store on 5th Avenue with two(2) entire checks from my little messenger gig.

The attention I received at the clubs or in the streets when I wore that Gucci jacket made it worth the money — and trust me I was mob deep when I had it on my back — but it was part of the way I defined myself as a cut above my working class lot. This was the Polo by Ralph Lauren slick marketing I referred to earlier. Polo was portrayed as the clothing worn by people who did recreational activities like skiing, sailing, horseback riding, or played polo. I didn’t know shit about any of that, but I wanted to look like I did. We all wanted to look like our lives were greater than they were.

Having a piece of Polo by Ralph Lauren clothing on your back was how Black teenagers communicated to one another that we had greater aspirations for our lives than the present crack/cocaine-filled conditions. Wearing Polo by Ralph Lauren was a mark that you had faith and belief in yourself there would be a better day in front you — so you went about acquiring pieces by any means necessary.

As soon as Black kids had determined that Polo was the significant brand for their lifestyle they developed methods of acquiring pieces wholesale. And by wholesale I mean for NO MONEY at all. Boosting gear was profitable but it wasn’t the endgame. The real goal was retention. We formed alliances with one another to protect ourselves from people who coveted the look and thought they could take it from us the way we took it from others. If you kept your gear, you kept your belief in yourself and you maintained your aspirations for getting your ass out of the ghetto. Or so we thought.

13 Responses to “The Almighty Allure of Polo by Ralph Lauren…”

  1. T-Bag Says:

    2L’s up, Love and Lotalty.

  2. Slumbilical Says:

    Dope.

    Careful throwing L’s up here in Chicago, tho – could get you popped quick!

  3. Belize Says:

    Great read og. I loved polo shirts cuz in Belize it too frikin hot to rock that NY shyt and bitches love cats in polo.

    THis quote was epic:

    “We all wanted to look like our lives were greater than they were.
    Having a piece of Polo by Ralph Lauren clothing on your back was how Black teenagers communicated to one another that we had greater aspirations for our lives than the present crack/cocaine-filled conditions.”

    ..especially during the crack wave in the 90’s (yes, 90’s belize is like always 10 yrs back from the US). My brand at time that was, my personal, fav over Polo was Nike. Nike, shirts, whatever was like gold. I mean cats used to get stuck for that out there..and Starter fitted caps..and Lolo Athletics. Damn. what a life we had.

  4. digical1 Says:

    Polo pieces back then were timeless, but I’m sorry those new pieces with the entire logo covering the entire shirt are gaudy. I’m sorry but I like the little man on my chest (pause) riding the horse opposed to me walking down the street & from 10 blocks away you know I got polo on. The new polo shirts look like the Jamaica ave bootleg from 10 yrs ago. Remember the bootlegs where the horse would be the size of your fist! I still got my polo teddy bear sheets & pillow cases. Bring that shit back or the sweater with the RL logo in the American flag!

  5. @yobrazil Says:

    as a younger head during those times, these stories take me back to when i lived in crown heights and i would be on atlantic or franklin ave with my older cousin and his friends and just be amazed at the colors they had on, and the pride that one exuded (||) when rocking an admirable IT…i understand @digical1 not being a fan of the new pieces, times are different, but just salute those still under the flag and be grateful you have experienced the newness of the vintage IT’s we younger heads lust over and with that admiration you once had to obtain that, we have our eyes set on that item as well as attaining what will soon be deemed classic to us, the superior lineage continues we spread out, salute and respect lifestylers #NeverDoesItStop peace dP i spend a lot of time on this site catching up and looking forward

  6. Martin Says:

    Dallas!

    You have done the best job I’ve seen thus far with describing in written word what that Polo horse and jockey really mean to us.

    Even if the piece isn’t fly it’s still bulletproof because it’s still LO. I know dudes who held LO in while imprisoned and never gave up anything. These youngsters flamming their TJ Maxx LO wears don’t know the balls of steel you had to have to rock a signature LO item back at in the early 90’s.

    Peace to you and if you would like to collab on a book it would be an honor.

    L&L!

    @flawlesscrowns

  7. KYU Says:

    DOPE ARTICLE. I’m fascinated by what NY was like in the 90’s. I’ve only been going there for the past 5 years, and I stay in Crown Heights or Bedstuy, or Harlem, and I’m just in love with those streets and the history of the hip hop culture. I had the opportunity to meet some cool cats who told me dope stories about the 90’s when they were boosting at the Macy’s at Fulton Street Mall in Brooklyn, and how the entrance to the train station was right next door to the store so they would make that sprint fast enough to get away.

    The dopeness.

  8. Tron_Doe Says:

    Great read, DP …

    Ralph himself would probably shed a couple cashmere tears upon reading this, yo …

  9. $yk Says:

    A special shoutout to the underpass @ Myrtle-Willoughby & the tunnel from the F to the 1,2,3. Can’t forget the long stop on the L from Bedford Ave to First Ave and Bushwick-Aberdeen St. I’ll never forget one time I seen a cat get got at Myrtle-Wyckoff and got thrown on the tracks. The way they spun and peeled that ‘Lo jacket off of dude and kicked him would have had Jet Li taking notes.

    @ digical1

    I can relate because not only do I remember those knockoffs (rofl) I’ve always had to wear business attire so my ‘Lo consists of many dress shirts, slacks and sweaters and not so many rugbys and polos. I remember the last Outfit Architecture where dP threw the shot at us lame ‘Lo wearers but I’m still willing to post some pics for the “12 Days of ‘Lo-Mas” idea I had. Even though I did say 30 days.

    Personally I would like them to bring back the white ‘Lo sneakers from back then.

  10. Combat Jack Says:

    As a cat that was an outside observer to the ‘Lo phenom, I can say that at this stage of my life, the best clothing my money can buy is Polo, the grown man colors and horsies though. No one writes the 80’/90’s like DP.

  11. La Barbie Says:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43357779/ns/world_news-americas/t/mexicos-hottest-fashion-craze-narco-polo-jerseys/#.ULjtzpPjmpM

  12. Chubbs Says:

    Holla!

  13. fats Says:

    great piece dallas! expertly put, as usual.

Leave a Reply