To those in the know, it’s actually a crocodile. But in the early ’80s, only a select few were in the know, and even fewer cared. In a case of mistaken identity, the Lacoste crocodile became known as the alligator when upper-middle-class prepsters mistook the French reptile for its American cousin. Blinded by the pastel reflections favored during the time, and looking for an exclusive style of their own, teens flipped up the collar and ignored the tradition behind the crocodile, adopting the ‘alligator’ as the fashion mascot of the early ’80s.
Izod shirts were created in 1934 by French tennis star René Lacoste, nicknamed ‘le crocodile’ after his characteristic nose. Lacoste promoted his name via a green embroidered crocodile patch on his tennis whites, which quickly became a symbol for the new leisure class. The crocodile’s identity remained unchallenged until, almost fifty years later, the alligator would usurp the title by a name-calling foul.
Although it was the same shirt their fathers wore, Alligator shirts became a prime status symbol of 80’s youth. Dyed in pastel colors and purposely untucked to display the ‘longer in the back than in the front’ design, the pique knit polo shirt with the ‘alligator’ was the only polo shirt of popular teen fashion. As the desire for Izod shirts soared, prepsters one-upped each other through the sheer multitudes in their closets.
The pinnacle achievement was to own one Izod of every color, from pale pink to bright red, so that you would never have to repeat the same shirt. When wearing two shirts—one over the other—became the ultimate in preppie chic, the color combinations were shocking and endless. A lemon-yellow shirt worn over a teal blue one highlighted the two-tone flash when the sleeves were rolled tight over the biceps and the collars pulled up, one higher than the other. The look defied both gravity and style.
Alligator shirts had many imitators: Gloria Vanderbilt’s swan, J.C. Penny’s fox, Le Tigre’s tiger, and Hunter’s Run horses all tried to end the alligator’s reign, but all without success. Whether crocodile or alligator, the toothy reptile remained champion in a zoo of rival animals.