Personal Essays

Lacoste of Living

After three-quarters of a century, a quintessential shirt picks up a lot of baggage—some good, some ironically so, all obsession-worthy.

“In my opinion Lacoste polos are perfection. Only the world’s strongest and most flexible cottons are chosen and used in these shirts. The polos go through rigorous testing, and each has its own dying tank. The dying process can take up to 13 hours in order to eliminate any color fading, so each shirt you get has a rich, vibrant color.” —Daniel Billett


“We’re going to have to figure out how to put the seat down so you can sit back there.”

“Or Becky can sit in the trunk,” I said, vaguely volunteering my sister-in-law. My wife, Carolyn, chimed in to say she could sit back there if need be.

“I’ll be fine for the ride to the villa.” It was a house, but it was much more fun to call it a villa. We were going on vacation with Carolyn’s family for a week in Nice after which we would venture to Marrakech alone for the celebration of our fifth anniversary.

I jumped in the trunk with the luggage.


Grunt. Pull lever. Grunt. Sweat. Push another lever. Put shoulder into seat. Lift seat. No, wrong way. Push seat back down. Stare at seat. The directions would be in French. It should be intuitive. Pull the other lever. Now we’re getting somewhere. Remove flap. Place flap by villa door.

“Every time we pass this we’ll have to say: We have to remember that we need to remember to put this back in the car before we leave.”

Now I could properly sit in the very back. “Properly” meaning knees jammed and rather hot because no vents, but we were going to Vence and Saint-Paul de Vence and Biot and Monaco. I would not complain.

(Of course, I wasn’t going to enjoy everything—glass factories, shopping, Internet surfing, sleeping, swimming, ascending mountains. I wasn’t even going to be able to take part in it all: I didn’t bring a computer and will have to sit while they check their email; they don’t swim and will have to sit while I perfect my stroke.)

But I do think you should be as enthusiastic as possible. Of course, it’s not always possible to be enthusiastic, but I feel that to the extent you can, it is your obligation to be enthusiastic about other people’s interests, primarily because your lack of enthusiasm can ruin their experience.


Carolyn’s mom said that since I was being such a good sport for sitting in the very back that she would buy me a Lacoste polo, an item I had been yammering about. At a recent wedding, the bride’s preppy cousin had worn bright orange jeans and when Carolyn and I told this story we said, “Some things are so preppy they’re indie.” “Indie” was the type of dress I aspired to, though I secretly felt I was getting too old for it. Besides, I wasn’t really the type of person that melded easily into a new fashion scene. But I secretly hoped a Lacoste shirt would take me to new heights. That is, I wanted it to be a perfect purchase: to sum me up in this instant and to help me expand into my future self. I know that’s a lot to ask of a shirt.

The thing is that it’s a fine line between buying something you love and something your wife thinks you look good in. You walk the line; at least you try to. As a brand, Lacoste has my own strange brand of respect. Founded in 1933 by tennis star René Lacoste, who was nicknamed Le Crocodile, for reasons that have never been fully explained. Lacoste was preppy but authentically so, which would make it all the easier for me to forge an ironic path in one of the shirts. But when I was honest with myself I knew my interest in Lacoste went beyond pure irony: I wanted the life of leisure the shirt exuded. I needed its rich apathy, its brash insouciance. I wanted to be part of a tribe that believed in the crocodile. I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself. Though only slightly so; a size 5 would do nicely.

The next question was: What color? I thought pink, but Carolyn didn’t. If I was going to do the Lacoste thing, I wanted to really do it. You don’t want to buy something and then still want it because you didn’t buy a good enough example of it. She said maybe green. I was thinking orange. The thing is that it’s a fine line between buying something you love and something your wife thinks you look good in. You walk the line; at least you try to. The point is to look good, but also to feel like something; thus, there’s an outer and an inner element to every clothing purchase. The perfect purchase balances these and extends you into the future. I thought about the shirt. I thought about the color.


We were in the old town of Nice, in the area with all the fabulous shopping and there it was: a perfect Lacoste store. I passed it by myself while the others were in other stores or on the Internet. I looked in, but the shirts were expensive, extremely expensive. I wasn’t sure whether to tell them that I found the store. I wasn’t sure if I would feel comfortable with them buying me such an expensive shirt. I didn’t tell them.

But we passed another Lacoste store, this time together, this time in Monaco, land of the delicious and ridiculous $15 Perrier float. We were all tired and strangely unimpressed with Monaco. Carolyn’s mom offered several times to buy me the shirt, but I noticed that Carolyn’s stepdad did not. I could have had the shirt, but I was afraid that I would have had it at the cost of my newfound closeness with my step-father-in-law. If it were me, I wouldn’t have wanted to buy the shirt for me either. It’s a rule, I heard my mother saying in my head, that if one person wants to spend money and another doesn’t, you’d be wise not to step in the middle. I couldn’t do it. Becky teased me a little, but I just couldn’t do it.


It was six in the morning at the airport in Marrakech. We were on our way home. Despite the early hour, the Lacoste store was open. They had a pale pink exemplar coolly folded with crinkly tissue paper. I looked at the price tag: a jaw-dropping €60 (about $90). Again, I couldn’t do it.


On the second jetlagged day back home, I begrudgingly checked the Lacoste website and found that they were having a sale.

The famed polo (available in 34 colors), which usually cost $79.50, was now obtainable for $58.99 – $79.50. That is, it was either on sale or it wasn’t. Unfortunately, the model looked extremely unappealing. He was, as far as I could tell, wearing not one but two polos, a look that did not scream insouciance, but rather, anxiety and vanity, as well as a lack of comfort.

The price was also more than I wanted to pay—and still more than Carolyn wanted me to pay. She added: “I still don’t see how you’re going to signal that you’re wearing it ironically.”

But she had a solution: eBay. $14.99 for an orange medium (Lacoste size 5), plus $5.00 shipping. I was the only bidder.


The author in his Lacoste shirt

Francis Raven‘s books include 5-Haifun: Of Being Divisible (Blue Lion Books, 2008), Shifting the Question More Complicated (Otoliths, 2007), Taste: Gastronomic Poems (Blazevox, 2005), and the novel, Inverted Curvatures (Spuyten Duyvil, 2005). Francis lives in Washington, D.C.; you can see more of his work at his web site. More by Francis Raven