New life has sprung and calendar days have set well into spring, for we who live in the Southern Hemisphere. Which only means that the new polo season and excuses to indulge in festive fashions are here. Courtesy of the dedication of the South African Polo Association (SA Polo) and various tastemakers in the hospitality industry, polo matches happen all year round. However, the main games and social highlights happen in spring and summer, and they are worth looking forward to.
Last month, the annual September highlight known as The Nedbank International Polo happened in Johannesburg, South Africa. Team South Africa was victorious against its long-term rival of 47 years, New Zealand. October will host the African Polo Open and the “Pink Polo”, a breast cancer fundraiser and awareness event happening in November at the award-winning Val de Vie Estate.
Image: Kyle Martin via Unsplash
What to look forward to at the Polo
First and most importantly, polo may be considered to be an elite sport but it does not necessarily have the stiff, unwelcoming atmosphere that it is presumed to have. Most people will remember a character called Vivian in the movie “Pretty Woman”. She was beautiful and “dressed to the nines” but feelings of inadequacy caused her to struggle to navigate her way through the elusive social scene that is the highbrow polo. In this scene, polo’s infamous socially barring attitude rears its ugly head. In reality, however, things do not necessarily play out that way. Especially in Africa. Despite being frequented by royals, captains of industry and celebrities, diverse crowds turn up at some polo matches and the atmosphere is very relaxed and highly enjoyable. Some matches offer general access from as little as ZAR 150 (AU$ 10), with VIP hospitality ranging from ZAR4000 (AU$ 390) upwards. Meaning that watching polo is not restricted to an elite group of people.
The second reason why the polo is worth looking forward to is that it is a full day of fun. The core highlight is, of course, the game and all the friendly rivalry. However, there is post-match entertainment from afternoon to evening. Meaning that there is a lot of dancing, fountains of drinks and delectable food. All of which provide the perfect note to enjoy beautiful polo fashion.
Every able-bodied being makes an effort to polish up and put their most stylish foot forward. Resulting in displays of personality, colour and entertaining flamboyance. Not in a red-carpet kind of way, because one is on their feet all day. Polo chic requires striking the delicate balance between looking your best, with possessing a measure of sensibility.
For practical and aesthetic reasons, hats are a must. On the practical end, you have to protect yourself from the resilient African sun. The aesthetic end of the spectrum, however, recognises that being polo chic is all about the headgear. Simple straw hats are the safest option for both male and female spectators. Whereas venturing out into “over the top” show-stoppers is the most fun option. For dedicated fashionistas, the more “over the top” the headgear, the better. You would even be forgiven if this is the one time that your entire outfit has been selected based on what is on your head.
Both men and women are advised to opt for light, loose-fitting materials. You can follow the “beauty is pain” philosophy at a film premiere or awards show. For an all-day event followed by dancing and much socializing, sensibility is your brand of sexy. This means that heavy fabrics and constricting outfits as tight as a second layer of skin would result in a most uncomfortable and sweaty day. Yuck!
Women are spoilt for choice. You can look stunning in “unfussy” neutral tones. Alternately, you could have fun making a bold statement by embracing bright colours or prints. Florals are a popular option as they complement the sunny African weather and reflect the optimism of the season. It is advised, though, that one steers clear from black. Even if black becomes “the new black” again.
On the practical end, ladies are advised to keep a cute sweater or shawl at hand for the slight chill that may sweep through in the evening.
Embracing neutral-toned elegance is one way to win (Image: Carl Ibale via Unsplash)
Men also get their range of freedoms. Despite the glamorous nature of polo, they are not obligated to wear complete matching suits or three-piece suits. It is definitely recommended that one does not wear anything that resembles a business or wedding suit. The bare minimum, however, is to pair your outfit with a smart, well-tailored jacket. In terms of colour options, neutrals or shades of stone are the safest bet and can easily be accompanied by a shirt in any colour, pattern or print. Fortunately for men, Africa’s definition of polo chic is very liberal and has become renowned for embracing the flamboyant. So venturing out in bright and unconventional colours or prints is a win. Zulu Mkhathini, for example, once wore a lively tangerine suit and did it justice. Look it up.
There are also no rules dictating that men wear ties or bow ties. If you ask me, I’d say that the open-collar look is quite suave. Those who choose otherwise, though, are known to show off their personality through wearing colourful bow ties.
As for the answer to the age-old question: can I wear jeans? I hate to tell an adult man what to wear but just this once I must insist: No. Please.
Colourful bow ties are fun and show some personality (Image: Palesa U via Unsplash)
Stilettos and towering heels make for some cute photographs but are murder on the feet. By 18:00, just as the entertainment starts to get into full swing, hurting feet will cause you to walk around like you mysteriously sustained an injury. Which is decidedly not sexy… at all. Thus, I’d advise that you spare yourself (and anyone watching) from the pain of watching you suffer. Unless you’re the proverbial Wonderwoman who lives in heels, I say stay away from towering stilettoes.
Instead, consider wedges, gently-heeled or even flat sandals. Quirky footwear options like brogues also work. Yes, I said it; and you’ll thank me later *wink*
The additional motivator for embracing cute but sensible footwear is the spectator’s highlight, “stomping the divots”. This fun aspect to the game is when spectators get to prepare the field for the remaining chukkas by stomping all the loosened and displaced patches of earth and grass back into the ground. Most people have a fun time snapping pics and “serving the greater good”. I say join them, they’re onto something.
Your camera, slick shades and some sunscreen!
Now you have some guidelines and a clear idea of how you can put a stylish foot forward. Do snap lots of selfies of going polo chic at the next game and be sure to share them with me and Style Plus.