The Polo Sport Phenomenon This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   It is a gorgeous autumn afternoon; the sun beams down upon the well-groomed field, drenching it with clarity and vibrance. The air is clear and brisk, yet not uncomfortably cool. It is an afternoon typical only in the land of television, created by extensive lighting and reality-distorting lenses. A band of highly attractive, twenty-somethings frolic through a quintessential game of weekend football, picture perfect even down to its masculine bonding and flirtatious undertones. The group's clothing, which consists of v-neck sweaters, well-tailored jeans, Khakis, crew and rugby shirts, has a subdued refinement to it. Their apparel is colored in shades of red, white and blue, often adorned with "USA" in large print. Stately, spirited orchestral music plays in the background, the kind that evokes an odd tingling feeling of pride and patriotism. An American flag suddenly appears on the screen, followed by the slogan "Polo Sport, answers for an authentic American lifestyle."

Polo Sport's ad campaign may sound pretentious and fake, but make no mistake, Polo, and similar labels like Tommy Hilfiger, are currently designers of the most sought after merchandise in the country. Since 1994, their product lines have cornered the thirty-five and younger market. Yet, their fashion designs are neither revolutionary nor vastly superior to their ailing competitors. So, what makes these labels so popular?

For starters, they are extremely adept at marketing their goods. They create what are known as "lifestyle lines." That is, their clothing does not simply function as a protection from the elements, but rather it transcends utility and represents a complete lifestyle. Polo Sport is an excellent example. Not only does Polo Sport sell clothes, it also offers fragrances, shoes and the like, thus providing a full line with which the consumer can pursue the "Polo Sport lifestyle." Furthermore, a Polo Sport product (and its implicit imagery) is highly visible with its liberal use of giant logos and catchy trademark designs. As a result, buyers purchase this brand, regardless of its quality or attractiveness, because it conveys a desired image.

So what is the "Polo Sport" image anyway, and why has it made their products so popular? The company has expertly created a highly desirable identity. Through these ad campaigns, Polo Sport plays upon our common desire for beauty and happiness. Polo has been able to convince people that if they wear the clothing, use "the real American fragrance" and emulate the lifestyle, they will be transformed into more attractive and happy human beings. Their campaign, also creates a sense of belonging. Polo Sport's persistent identification of their clothing as the essence of the American life-style evokes a feeling of pride. Because the "USA" is embodied by these beautiful, affluent-looking people, consumers come away feeling that being American is very desirable. As a result, they tend to think of themselves as belonging to American culture. On a more specific level, owning Polo Sport products grant one admission to certain "cliques" or higher social echelons in his/her immediate environment, be it school or elsewhere. To be considered "cool" by certain peers, one must embrace the Polo Sport style. In this sense, the Polo Sport "movement" is the contemporary adolescent's form of the age-old pursuit of "fitting in." The company's success is due, in part, to the fact that their goods are widely recognized as being the way one achieves social acceptance.

Polo Sport's success, however, is not solely a function of its appeal to the consumers' yearning for good looks, happiness and popularity. Polo's recent prosperity also results from its understanding that fashion trends often reflect the economic and political climate of a society. In the early '90s, revolting against the extreme Republicanism of the '80s and panicking in the face of economic recession, the country voted a Democrat into the Presidency, and became more liberal. At the time "Grunge," extremely casual clothing, to the point of being ripped and ill-fitting was very popular. The "Grunge" style was representative of both a backlash against the pretentious and snooty glamour of the '80s, and an expression of the despair and hopelessness that comes in times of financial decline. Then, in 1994, the country underwent a fiscal recovery. Americans suddenly wearied of their excessive liberalism and began a move back to the political center. Republicans were voted back into Congressional positions. Coinciding with this, "Grunge" lost its popularity, ousted in favor of the more upscale, pretentious and conservative fashion embodied in Polo Sport. Polo Sport type companies shrewdly capitalized on the changing environment by creating a more conservative brand at exactly the moment young consumers were becoming more conservative.

So, Polo Sport's recent popularity seems to be due to people's desire for its imagery and its deference to the effects of increased American conservatism upon consumers' sense of fashion. After all, in a country where "clothes make the man" and people are increasingly judged by their style, consumers understandably want a jacket or a pair of underwear that has a favorable connotation and is expressive of their views and feelings. ?


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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