Pros: Soft fabric, classic styling with just enough throwback to make it cool
Cons: Cotton...it's more or less extinct in athletic apparel for a reason.
Austin Texas based Criquet company makes a really, really cool cotton polo that evades categorization. It's vintage in design, but not so much so that only college kids and corner baristas would wear it. It's classic country club, but with enough cool that you'll be really tempted to wear your dark-rinse jeans in the clubhouse. And finally it's a golf polo, but it's designed for leisure wear, not just golf.
Disclaimer: there's only so much you can say about a polo. The cotton polo is as much about the guy as it is about the shirt. Baggy or fitted, rumpled or pressed, tucked or untucked--every guy has his preferences, and we all have that one favorite style that seems to fit just right, even after a few washes and wears. Recognizing that appreciation of the cotton polo is inherently subjective, I'll try to capture some objective points here as well.
First impressions. From the website to the packaging, Criquet appeals to the consumer's sense of quality and fun. The website shows photos of 20something guys having a beer outside wearing a relaxed cotton polo. The shirt arrives neatly folded in a flat, brown paper wrapper. The price, packaging, and marketing feel very J.Crew inspired. But I feel like the Criquet guys would be annoyed by a comparison to J.Crew, because J.Crew is mainstream and has outlet mall locations. So this is more like a golf-themed Vineyard Vines, except way back when the whale shirt was just getting started and nobody knew it was cool yet.
Pulling the shirt out of the package, it's like...well...it's like a cotton polo. Much to my dismay, frosty beer, cute girls, and facial hair didn't automatically appear when I tore open the package. But inside I did find a really soft, ever-so-slightly faded cotton polo. The fabric is really soft--like the kind of soft that old Ralph Lauren polos used to get after a few dozen washings but right before the fabric started to pill. And the colors were just faded so that they didn't look like a brand new shirt, but not too faded like that really old shirt your wife keeps throwing away when you're not looking. The blue was inky but not black, and the yellow was neither too pale nor too bright.
The detailing is different, but not overdone. The collar pays tribute to the 70s & 80s golf polos, but it's not big and it's not too structured. It has small, removable collar stays that allows the wearer to decide whether they prefer a more starchy or rumpled style. (Warning: if you choose rumpled, I fear you'll only be able to make this choice once--more below about washing.) The chest pocket is small enough that it doesn't affect how the shirt lays across your chest. The sleeves are cuffed but not tapered or pinched. The button placket is long with four buttons, but the spacing is good--you can go one button closed for the super-relaxed on the beach with board shorts look, or one button open if you're going for the more tucked-in with khakis and loafers look. The placket had just enough piping that it wasn't stiff, but I don't think I'll have trouble with the buttons popping open.
Fit. I'm 5'11 and 190lbs with a 41" chest. With most synthetic golf shirts I swim around in a size large, while a medium will either be just right or slightly snug. With cotton polos, a large usually fits right after a little shrinkage from the dryer. I don't like Jersey-shore tight shirts, but at the same time I don't like the look of baggy country-club golf shirts either. For me, fit is usually the biggest issue with polos--especially cotton polos because you never know what a couple of washes is going to do to them.
The initial fit was just a hair on the large side. I got two shirts, both size large. The sizing chart on the website says that a 5'10", 170-lb man should wear a medium, and I think this is about right. The large for me was just a little loose and just a little long, both in the sleeves and tail. The fit was so close that I was debating whether to gamble on shrinkage--it could come out of the dryer a perfect fit, or it could be just a hair too small.
Washing and care. I took the gamble on the dryer.
After a wash and a dry on low heat, the fit through the chest and shoulders was perfect! I'd say it shrunk about an inch in chest size, which was just enough for me. The sleeves shrunk just enough as well so that it hangs just at the bottom of my bicep. The tail shrunk about 2 inches, however, which might have been a tad too much. Luckily I can fix that with a little stretching on the next wash, but out of the dryer it's a close call whether I'll be able to tuck the shirt in. It's just about right for wearing untucked, though.
The care instructions on the website say to remove from the dryer while still damp and hang. Needless to say, I did not do this. Honestly, no guy will do this--I have a job, kids, and hobbies, and I'm not going to sit around staring at the dryer waiting for my polo to go from "wet" to "damp". If you like the length of this shirt out of the package, do not put it in the dryer. Nuff said.
Other than that, the impact of washing and drying was on the pleasant side of predictable. Minor shrinkage, slight deformation, but nothing crazy. Actually, I was a little concerned that the piping in the collar, placket, and pocket flap would shrink/deform differently from the body of the shirt and make the entire shirt disproportioned. This did not happen--the pocket flap crinkled slightly, but everything else looks great.
Note on the starched vs. relaxed look. This polo could easily go either way, but I think you have to choose. Out of the package, this shirt is crisp enough to go tucked in with khakis, loafers, and even a blazer if that's your thing. Out of the dryer, it's more of a untucked with jeans or chino shorts and flip flops kinda polo. That's my favorite kind of polo, so I'm super psyched--but know what you're getting into before you wash it.
Performance. This is a cotton polo. It's lightweight, soft, and comfortable, but it's still cotton. If you play golf in this shirt in the Texas summer, it will soak with sweat, then fade in the sun. Honestly, I'll stick with plastic shirts for "performance" on the golf course, especially in the summer. But, I don't think the boys at Criquet really expect you to play golf in this shirt. The website describes these as "high performance shirts for the 19th hole." In that regard, I think the Players shirt is pretty close to perfect.
Endurance. I've only had these shirts for two weeks. I've worn one of them once, and the other twice--including once after a trip through the washer and dryer. Through that "vigorous" test, they've held up well. Initial impressions lead me to believe they'll stand up well to wear. There were no hanging threads after putting them through the washer, and the seams all look sturdy. But only time will tell...
Overall Impression. This is a great shirt. As of this posting, the Criquet Players shirt is a very strong candidate for my favorite polo. The fit, color, and style are relaxed and a perfect match to wear untucked with chino shorts or jeans. The cotton is soft and very comfortable, with just the right amount of stretch. I would not recommend this as a "performance golf shirt", but it is the absolute perfect shirt for enjoying a bucket of cold ones on the porch at Little Woodrow's, then throwing on a blazer and heading out for dinner. I am definitely satisfied, and even at $75 I'm sure I'll own a few more of these in the future.