Left to my own devices for an hour or so the other day in that temple of consumerism known as the Short Hills Mall, I found myself drawn inexorably past the menswear offerings from such storied houses as Brunello Cucinelli and Loro Piana to the House that Ralph built. The Polo Shop at Short Hills doesn’t offer your average Polo mall-fare, either. Whether the company is aware of the luxury menswear brands sharing space just down the hall and choosing to up its game here is unclear, but nevertheless the undisputed winner are the Ralph aficionados who walk through the doors of this particular Polo outpost only to be greeted by a higher level of tailored menswear made in Italy for both the Polo and Purple Label lines.
Here, nestled comfortably in the aspirational realms of the Ralph Lauren idyll, one comes face to face with nod after nod to the golden age of men’s style: jackets in lovely tweeds with bold checks and subtle houndstooths, sublime herringbones and stunning window-panes. If the fabrics don’t harken back to something Clark Gable might have worn in It Happened One Night, there are bellows pockets, bi-swing or action backs featuring gusseted shoulders, and pleated pockets with belted backs that conjure up images of American style icons such as George Raft or William Powell.
It should be noted here that, as an admitted RL-obsessive with a closet full of vintage Polo pieces from the 1970s and 1980s, it’s obvious that the belted back jacket has never been very far from Ralph’s notions of what men’s style should aspire to. And while the proportions may have changed over the last 50 years – with the 1970’s American-made iterations featuring healthy 5-inch lapels and matching wide pocket-flaps, elongated center vents and the somewhat rarer center-back pleat; to the 1990s Italian versions with their less conspicuous dimensions – the belted jacket with pleated pockets has remained a staple of the Polo aesthetic. Fast forward to the present day and the premise still holds – Polo’s sold-out HBCU collection is peppered with the same classic flourishes, albeit with a decidedly 21st Century-appropriate bent: namely, shorter sleeves and shorter hems, higher rises and higher gorges, slimmer silhouettes, tapered legs, etc., etc.
Of course, if those staples of the Roaring Twenties, the belted back jacket with pleated pockets have been a mainstay of the Polo Ralph Lauren line-up for the last 50 years, that begs the question as to whether there is anything particularly HBCU-centric about the Morehouse/Spelman collegiate collection, beyond the names and colors of the colleges displayed prominently on various garments. That, however, is a discussion for another day . . .
Words & Photography by Dan Flores