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The Laurenficiation of America

By Paige McKirahan

To celebrate the revival of Western wear this fall, it is important to recognize one of the fashion world’s most iconic designers that made Americana inspired pieces a staple in wardrobes across the globe. Can you guess who it is? We’ll give you a few hints: colorful polos, teddy bear motifs, and American flags. If you said Ralph Lauren, the creative mind behind his namesake brand, you guessed correctly! This year, the brand is celebrating its 50th anniversary, marking half a century of trials, tribulations, and unmatched success.

(image credits to Vogue.com)

Ralph Lauren, born Ralph Lifshitz in 1939, is a Bronx native that studied business prior to his arrival to the fashion world. He began his long career as a designer and businessman during his secondary and post- secondary studies; he would upsell handmade ties to his peers and eventually became a neckwear salesman at Brooks Brothers. After he grew tired of selling others designs and being inspired by thicker European tie styles that contrasted the popular thin ties of the time, he attempted to persuade his employer to allow him to create and sell his own pieces. Upon Brooks Brothers refusal, he approached a multitude of other manufacturers before Beau Brummell, an upscale NYC neckwear boutique, eventually accepted his proposal in 1967. Lauren begin selling and creating pieces right from their Empire State building showroom with nothing but a single drawer to work out of.

His success in Beau Brummell prompted the expansion of his products into other small boutiques and eventually brought on a deal with Bloomingdales. Lauren decided to continue with this growth and came to the conclusion that it was time to form his own company; with the help of his brother Jerry and with support from Manhattan clothing manufacturer Norman Hilton, Polo Fashions, Inc. was born in 1968. The polo name was incorporated because of Lauren’s love for athletics and the style that came along with it, despite the fact that he himself had never participated in the sport. Four years after the brands conception, he decided to introduce what can be considered the label’s most iconic design: the short sleeved collared shirt with a polo pony on the chest. 

After the release of this cult classic, the brand grew substantially over the following decades and expanded into women’s wear, fragrances, and home goods. The name was changed in 1987 to the Polo/ Ralph Lauren Corporation and it was around that time that the rise of streetwear iconography took hold of some of the label’s most emblematic figures. When the brand released its first American Flag sweater in 1989, it prompted toy maker Stieff to gift Lauren with a teddy bear wearing a mini Polo outfit. He loved the bear so much that he began selling the it in stores and put its likeness on sweaters and shirts, a design that is still overwhelmingly popular in the streetwear community today. 

(image credits to highsnobiety.com)

 In 1993, Lauren decided to step away from ivy league style and walk a more rugged path with the creation of Double RL (RRL). Though he had country-inspired collections that preceded this new design channel, he wanted to create something completely separate that would allow to fully explore the vintage Western motif away from his parent brand. This sub-brand broke out of the constraints of the Polo aesthetic and its source of inspiration lied in the prairies with early 20th century workwear. RRL, which is named after none other than the Lauren’s over 15,000-acre ranch in Colorado, includes a full line of shirts, denim, flannels, sweaters, jackets, and chinos that emulated the designer’s love for Americana in an entirely new light.


(image credits to heddels.com)

The brand’s commitment to recreating accurate representations of heritage is evident by its careful selection of fabrics, construction, and color. With the use of leather, fringe, and Navajo style patterns, he conveyed this vintage feel with ease. One of the true embodiments of Western workwear is blue denim; the denim line in this collection is coveted with each pair being cut and sewn from the meticulously created East-West denim, making the Slim Fit Selvedge Jean a fan favorite. The pant has a five pocket construction and can range from mid to low rise with a button fly and leather waist patch. A rare feature of this denim is that it offers three options for inseam- length, allowing buyers to choose their perfect fit.

Today, Ralph Lauren is still headquartered in New York with over $2 billion in annual revenue. The story of its creation is truly a rags to riches display of the American dream; he took his ideas from a small drawer in Manhattan to the drawers of clothing lovers all around the globe. Though Lauren himself is no longer the brand’s CEO, for 48 years he was the driving creative force behind his beloved fashion house that made the prep aesthetic a cornerstone in the fashion community. Let’s all be sure to pull on our boots and polos to commemorate this golden anniversary the right way and for a little more inspiration, head over to our collection to get 20% off Western styles for this weekend only!


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