A well-kept secret

Hats – a matter of taste or a question of faith? This is a very sensitive, almost controversial subject; the sport of polo is casual about it though.

Some would say hats are part of equestrian sports. Others would say hats are only part of equestrian sports if the sport in question is horse racing. Others yet are undecided and simply thankful for any occasion to which they can wear and show off their favourite headgear. Another group ascribes their affection for headgear to safety and thus, laudably and in keeping with regulations, wear helmets or other protective headgear of all sizes and colours for horse ridding, cycling or any other similar activities. Nevertheless, the hat, which far from bearing any casualties also offers no guidelines to the user or better the wearer, is wanting of logic. What then shall be done? There is no consensus in sight. Hannover made an invitation in their press release: “Put a smart hat on, put your dog on a leash, and off you go to Maspe”. However, the second best local player, Christopher Kirsch (hdc +4) offered a contrary opinion in a local daily, the Handelsblatt. Asked about the trappings of polo, he said, “Polo has nothing to do with trendiness. Unlike in other equestrian sports, we have no dress code. Ladies may leave their hats at home”. With that the poor polo spectator is none the wiser as regards the wardrobe “Dos and Don’ts”. After all, the hat is indeed a matter of tradition. The idea of covering one’s head is 5,000 years old. The lady’s hat saw the light of day in the 18th century in the form of the bonnet which became compulsory for all women. All well and good, but what is one to wear to the next polo tournament? Here goes.

Please enter

Any assumptions that all the action in polo is by the players and the horses is quickly dispelled in the first break of the game.

In polo, it is not only the ponies and players that are expected to perform – the spectators are also expected to perform. Masses of colourfully dressed spectators flock onto the field during each break for the traditional divot stomping aiming to kick and stomp back into place any pieces of turf that have been torn out of the ground by the horses’ hooves or players’ mallets. Many a time the gents stride off confidently onto the field while the ladies in pumps tiptoe behind them in fear of messing up the turf even more with their high heels. However, not only the spectators are expected to “repair” the turf. The rules of the German Polo Association call on the referee to engage in stomping turf back into place in his goal area. However, there is more to divot stomping than just getting torn-out turf back into place. Real polo fans are happy to take a glimpse at things from the players’ perspective right where the game is taking place – to get a whiff of the vibes on the field. Besides, you can rub shoulders with the stars (riders or ponies), hold a polo stick, or even – joy of joys- find a polo ball that had escaped the vigilant eye of the referee. Part of the motivation of course lies in seeing and being seen, and the opportunity to show off the hats and clothes – champagne glass in hand.

The Polo Outfit (I) – The Players’

When polo players show up at the buffet table in dirt stained trousers that were once white, one wonders: “Why of all things white trousers?”

Well, simply said, one shouts out “good luck” to the gents – sometimes ladies – in white jeans and “well done” to those in dirt-stained trousers. On attire, the German Polo Association states that white jeans are the classical outfit. Strictly speaking, white breeches – wide trousers that have always been the norm for equestrian sports – are the classical polo outfit. Breeches are wide at the top but close fitting at the bottom so they fit easily into the ridding boots. Even pictures of colonial times depict Irish and English polo players wearing white breeches. With time, only the style and the material have changed. Nowadays, it is usual – but not mandatory – to wear jeans as the denim cotton is very tough and durable. However, more pieces were also part of the classical polo outfit. Besides the white breeches, one also wore a Bombay Bowler (the Indian style tropical service pith helmet), and natural brown leather boots. This is something special – polo is the only tournament sport where players wear natural coloured leather boots. The reason is obvious. This way, players do not stain the opponents’ white trousers with black shoe polish when they ride-off each other. In other equestrian sports, riders may wear black boots as there is hardly any physical contact between the riders. The zip on polo boots is also very practical as there are no changing rooms on polo fields. Players arrive at the tournament wearing white jeans and any comfortable shoes and later change into their ridding boots just before the game. After the tournament they simply swap the uncomfortable ridding boots for their walking shoes and that is it.

The Polo Outfit (II) – The Spectators’

Variety is the spice of life. That seems to be the motto amongst polo spectators too. Sonja Baum on the Dos and Don’ts on the polo green:

A mild August afternoon, the occasional white cloud blows past over the polo field, a mild wind blows in from the mainland. But suddenly the white clouds darken, the mild wind turns into a stiff breeze. All in all, the polo spectator on Sylt suddenly has a problem on their hands. Not only must one’s outfit be appropriate for the polo event, it must also withstand the weather on Sylt. However, on the mainland the spectator’s attire is less of a problem. Anything from casual to très chic is appropriate: polo shirts, spaghetti strap tops, baggy dresses, fancy dress, colourful summer suits with or without a tie. You just can’t go wrong with a polo-player-like La-Martina-Shirt. These shirts from Argentina also come imprinted with your favourite number or your team’s name. What better way to spur on your team. (By the way the best looking of these are the blue and black Pol0+10-La-Martina-Shirts …). The choice of shoes automatically takes care of itself. By no means take into consideration the divot stomping. This would certainly be more effective in real boots but it looks more elegant to partake in divot stomping in pumps or high heel sandals. To wear a hat or not to wear a hat? Opinions differ on this. A hat is traditionally part and parcel of the outfit though. However, because of the wind on the Island, it must fit perfectly. Pashmina shawls are a must-have if a lady’s outfit is going to withstand the weather. As a general rule: several layers of tops, pullovers, and jackets will keep the worst of the weather at bay. Even Barbour jackets have been sighted at the height of summer – at polo events on Sylt.