In the 19th and early 20th centuries, tennis players ordinarily wore “tennis whites” consisting of long-sleeved white button-up shirts (worn with the sleeves rolled up), flannel trousers, and ties.This attire presented problems for ease of play and comfort.
René Lacoste, the French seven-time Grand Slam tennis champion, felt that the stiff tennis attire was too cumbersome and uncomfortable. He designed a white, short-sleeved, loosely-knit piqué cotton (he called the cotton weave jersey petit piqué) shirt with an unstarched, flat, protruding collar, a buttoned placket, and a shirt-tail longer in back than in front (known today as a “tennis tail”; see below), which he first wore at the 1926 U.S. Open championship.
Beginning in 1927, Lacoste placed a crocodile emblem on the left breast of his shirts, as the American press had begun to refer to him as “The Crocodile”,a nickname which he embraced.
Lacoste’s design mitigated the problems that traditional tennis attire created:
- the short, cuffed sleeves solved the tendency of long sleeves to roll down
- the shirt should be buttoned to the top
- the piqué collar could be worn upturned to protect the neck skin from the sun
- the jersey knit piqué cotton breathed and was more durable
- the “tennis tail” prevented the shirt from pulling out of the wearer’s trousers or shorts
In 1933, after retiring from professional tennis, Lacoste teamed up with André Gillier, a friend who was a clothing merchandiser, to market that shirt in Europe and North America.Together, they formed the company Chemise Lacoste, and began selling their shirts, which included the small embroidered crocodile logo on the left breast.