A Stylish Look at the History of Golf Fashion
by Megan Hart
The history of golf fashion is checkered, both literally and figuratively.
From Scottish tartan to Tiger’s Sunday red, the sport has seen its share of iconic looks. Often influenced by the fashion of the era, golf clothes have become increasingly functional as the culture has become more casual in everyday attire. But, that wasn’t always the case. Here’s a look back at the ups and downs of golf fashion.
Scotland is considered the birthplace of golf. In fact, the first documented reference to the game comes from the Scottish Parliament and dates back to 1457. Since then, golf’s Scottish forefathers have had a major impact on the sport’s fashion.
When golf really took off in the nineteenth century, many men, regardless of local weather, wore wool knickers, jackets, and even waistcoats, which were suited for Scotland’s windy conditions. While tweed is no longer the fabric of choice for most golfers today, we do still see some Scottish-inspired looks. From Bryson Dechambeau’s flat caps to Freddie Jacobson’s plus fours.
The golfer perhaps best known for sporting the Scottish style was Payne Stewart. Stewart, a three-time major champion, was famous for his colorful knickers and knee socks, which he often wore in tartan and argyle. He’s also remembered as one of the most popular golfers on the PGA Tour among players and fans alike. To pay respects to Stewart after his sudden passing, pros like Ian Poulter and Rickie Fowler have honored him by wearing similar looks.
The Jazz Age
When you think of Victorian attire, Jane Austen adaptations may come to mind. While gowns, bustles, and petticoats might be a costume designer’s dream, they hardly seem like functional golf wear. However, this is what early female golfers were expected to play in.
It wasn’t until the 1920s that women’s golf fashion became slightly more flexible. Female golfers began wearing blouses, cardigans and pleated skirts that hit around the ankles.
In 1933, Gloria Minoprio became the first woman on record to play golf in pants. The female golfer caused quite a stir when she opted for pants instead of a skirt. Her outfit from that year’s British Ladies Championship is now at the British Golf Museum in St. Andrews. Today, of course, women are welcome to wear slacks on the course. Female pros are even allowed to play in shorts, a convenience that’s still banned by the PGA Tour.
As it did for women, golf fashion also became more relaxed for men in the 1920s. Many male golfers began wearing button-down shirts and ties so that they could easily transition from the office to the links. At this time, an even bigger fashion trend was taking root in another sport.
In 1926, Jean Rene Lacoste, the world’s top tennis player, wore a shirt of his own design during the U.S. Open. Considered the first modern polo, it featured a breathable knit fabric, short sleeves, an unstarched collar and an extra-long tail, making it easier to tuck in. Lacoste won the event and the shirt made quite a splash.
In 1933, the Lacoste brand was founded. In its early years, it focused almost exclusively on producing tennis wear, offering only white polos. By the 1950s, however, golfers began to embrace the look and Lacoste expanded its color choices. In 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower wore a Lacoste shirt on the golf course. Around this time, other manufacturers adopted the design and it’s been a fashion staple for male and female golfers ever since.
While Gloria Minoprio was bold enough to wear slacks in the 1930s, most female golfers continued sporting skirts until well after the LPGA was founded in 1950. Throughout the 50s and 60s, hemlines slowly inched upward to more functional lengths.
In the 1960s, the skort was introduced. Often falling above the knee, the skort blended style and function in a new way. Sleeveless blouses also became acceptable golf wear for women.
In 2017, the LPGA decided that shorts, skirts and skorts had become too revealing. The Association altered its dress code to say that they must cover the golfer’s “bottom area” at all times. The announcement, which also featured stipulations about necklines and athletic wear, was meant with resistance by some golfers and industry professionals, who called it sexist.
Golf pants had their heyday in the 1970s. For both male and female golfers, polyester was the fabric du jour and eye-catching colors were all the rage.
While more demure trousers are popular today, there are of course notable exceptions. Since he turned pro in 1987, John Daly has worn just about every color and print of pants that you can imagine. Most recently, he repped the St. Louis Cardinals with loud, printed slacks at the 2018 U.S. Open.
Female golfers tend to get a little more colorful in their choice of skirts, shorts and pants, but golf fashion has come a long way since the days of disco and it’s continuing to evolve.
As newer, influential golfers, think Tiger Woods, Michelle Wie, and Rickie Fowler, come onto the golf scene styles change with them. However, golf fashion will always remember and pay tribute to those style icons and players throughout the ages.