November 29, 2020

The white polo shirt: how the alt-right co-opted a modern classic

From its roots in the worlds of polo and tennis, through Ralph Lauren and the rap scene, the white polo shirt is a garment loaded with aspiration. For the white supremacists who marched on Charlottesville, it acted, chillingly, as a uniform

Last week, film-maker and GQ correspondent CJ Hunt was in the middle of the Charlottesville violence when he recorded something extraordinary. A young man ran into frame. Separated from his supremacist clan, lost amidst the leftists, in panic he whipped off his white polo shirt to stand semi-naked: “I’m not really white power, man,” he shouts. “I’m just doing it for fun.” The message was clear. White polo shirt on = white power. White polo shirt off = normal bloke.

At Charlottesville, many of the far-right turned up wearing a uniform of powder-white polo shirts, with jeans or chinos – an overall air of country club pomade was practically hanging in the air. Carrying their tiki torches they were attempting to cultivate an aesthetic that could appear non-threatening, even aspirational.

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