In my short-sleeved polo top, I hope to co-opt Gareth Southgate’s laid-back authority

Last Updated: June 8, 2024By

Dress to Impress: Southgate’s Style Influence

“Whenever you put something on, you’re making some sort of a statement, aren’t you?” That’s what England coach and fashion trendsetter Gareth Southgate said, and I couldn’t agree more. When I stand on the sidelines in my M&S merino wool polo knit – short sleeves, half zip – I feel like the epitome of smart-casual. Even the color is perfectly neutral.

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During the 2018 World Cup, Southgate introduced a fresh style of leadership to the England team: solid, understated, a touch fatherly. As the team fought their way to the semi-finals, his Marks & Spencer waistcoats became a symbol of luck, and M&S saw their waistcoat sales double.

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Southgate’s approach to both style and management has shifted ahead of this summer’s Euro 2024 in Germany. “This year, it’s more about short-sleeved knits than a suit and tie because we’re trying to create a relaxed environment,” he told GQ magazine. “When working with young lads, you don’t want to be too stiff – in what you’re doing or wearing.”

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Southgate’s wardrobe choices seem to be catching on. Just days after his statement, menswear retailer Jacamo reported a 42% increase in sales of their stone-colored knitted polo, and a 130% rise in sales of their cotton cardigans.

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Trying to Keep Up

I find myself, as usual, out of step with the times. I ditched my last cardigan about two years ago – loved it, but so did the moths. And I’ve never owned a short-sleeved knit. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure they existed. But I picked up a few, hoping to channel some of Southgate’s laid-back confidence.

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Standing by the goal in a local park in my short-sleeved knitted polo top, I think I’m starting to get it: I feel relaxed, confident, informal… and cold. It’s 17°C, cloudy, with a stiff wind and rain on the way. My arms are covered in goosebumps.

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A knitted polo top feels like the quintessential English garment: a summer jumper. Days like this one are typical for early June, but they can also surprise you in mid-July or anytime in August. Yet, if it’s cool enough for a jumper, surely it’s cold enough for sleeves.

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You can’t really layer under a polo knit, and wearing something cotton over wool seems odd. Eventually, I resort to pairing knits: a red John Smedley wool crewneck under a pale Paul Smith cardigan. I’m not sure about the look I’ve created – what was meant to be a laid-back authority has turned into a bit of a mess.

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Weather Woes

The sun makes a comeback, and I’m suddenly roasting. I switch to a boldly striped polo top with buttons. Around me, people are caught off guard by the weather: some in shorts and sandals, others in wax jackets and rain hats. I’m the only one in a short-sleeved sweater. Germany, I tell myself, will be more predictable. Southgate will be fine.

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Here’s something else: a knitted top really clings to you. How confident you feel likely depends on how comfortable you are with your body’s contours. I’m not just going from too hot to too cold – I’m also exhausted from holding in my stomach.

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“As I’ve got older, I’ve realized you’ve just got to be comfortable with how you are,” Southgate told GQ. Maybe that’s the point I’m missing: the casual confidence I’m after has to come from within, not from a £40 merino wool top from M&S’s Autograph collection. On the other hand, if I hold my stomach in long enough, maybe it’ll stay that way.

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Finally, the promised rain arrives in a heavy downpour, and I retreat to my car. I’ve never owned a short-sleeved wool polo before, so I have no idea what happens when it gets wet. Guess I’m about to find out.

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