The Story Behind the Ralph Lauren Polo Bear

Shannon Firby on Wed, May 29, 24

How the Polo Bear became an icon in the 90's Hip-Hop Realms


Ralph Lauren 1967-now

Regaled by most as the godfather of preppy, ivy-league clothing, Ralph Lauren has started an empire, hailing from NYC, that’s all about selling the American Dream and the style to go with it. Known perhaps most notably by his most famous logo- the polo rider that came to be in 1972, that’s not to say the brand doesn’t feature other iconic motifs, each with their own history in the Polo Ralph Lauren portfolio.

The Polo range is increasingly popular, even still and both new and vintage Polo clothing are highly sought after in the streetwear market. 

But the question remains, where did the Polo Bear originate, and how did it become as iconic as the brands polo rider motif? 

The origin of the Polo Bear

While the Ralph Lauren Polo Bear makes his debut in 1991, the story actually starts back in 1902, when President Theodore Roosevelt went on a bear hunt in Mississippi and a companion set out to tie a bear to a tree so the president could shoot it. Declining, determining the situation unsportmanlike, The Washington Post ran a cartoon of the president sparing the bears life, inspiring toy sellers to name their bears after him, Teddy. One maker of these stuffed bears, Richard Steiff, became one of the worlds most renowned makers.

The original Steiff Bear has seen success since it was first created, and legend has it that Ralph brother Jerry was an avid collector of the Steiff teddy bear, and both were given a bear dressed in their likeness, which became something of a tradition. 

When in 1991, Ralph introduced the Polo Bear to his apparel line, with only 200 made, they sold out that weekend. From then on, the bear was found on the brands knitted sweaters, printed onto Ralph Lauren t-shirts and embroidered on the classic shirts.

Since then, the famous Polo Bear's wardrobe has embodied different styles including Preppy Bear, Martini Bear, Beach Bear and Collegiate Bear. 

So, 1991 saw the birth of an impeccably dressed and well-rounded teddy bear, named the Polo Bear, that went on to capture the affections of infants, mothers and grandparents alike… and the Hip-Hop community.

Immediately seeing its potential, the Lo-Life Crew (a Brooklyn-based gang who were notorious for stealing Ralph Lauren merchandise in the 80’s and 90’s) took to the Polo Bear, in all of its many outfits, and it became a crucial part of the crew’s wardrobe.

The Polo Bear Collection at EQVVS

The Polo Bear goes Hip-Hop

At 15 years old, Rack-Lo formed the Lo-Lifes back in 1988, a 100-member force uniting Brownville and Crown Heights that embodied the hip-hop lifestyle. Their only criteria- live and breathe Ralph.

Since it wasn’t a brand made for urban kids, who often couldn’t afford it, the crew had to find other means of getting their hands on it. Mostly, running into the likes of Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdales of Barneys and grabbing as much as they could to take back to Brooklyn. Which came with consequences for a lot of the members of the crew.

There was a focus on Polo as the signature brand of the crew, mandated as a head-to-toe uniform, flocking to the clubs and rubbing elbows with the golden-era rappers of the 90’s earning a reputation amongst the crowd.

And naturally, when the Polo Bear arrives, the Lo-Lifes took to the motif instantly, wearing and exposing the Bear to a mainstream audience.

Rack-Lo credits the crew for giving Polo Ralph Lauren and the Polo Bear its mainstream appeal, turning its sport-oriented apparel into streetwear must-haves and ultimately bringing it into the landscape of hip-hop fashion in a large way. Most notably, Raekwon wore a Polo Snow Beach pullover for Wu-Tang Clan’s 1994 music video for “Can It All Be So Simple”. A decade later Kanye West opted for a suit-clad Polo Bear  on the cover of his “College Dropout” Album.


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