The game of golf has changed and refined during the many years of its existence. Knowledge of areas such as sports science and how our bodies work have allowed many things to change and improve. Standards of courses have increased, making them more challenging. And professional golfers have added another level to the game entirely. As the game has changed, so too has the golf fashion – again for both style and practical reasons. Here’s a look back at golf fashion through the years.
The roots of the game
No-one knows for sure where the game we know as golf originated but the first recognisable game can be seen in 15th century Scotland. Here was a game that we could recognise in some way – although the first records were when James II banned the game in 1457 as an ‘unwelcome distraction to learning archery’. James IV lifted the ban in 1502 because he was a fan of golfing himself and the first reference to golf clubs came the year after. The oldest course is often believed to be St Andrews Old Course which existed in at least 1574 and probably before this.
So, what did this mean for fashion? There’s a good chance that the original golf fashion attire involved a kilt and probably some animal skin furs – in other words, what the Scottish people that invented the game wore. As the nobility came to appreciate the game, the course fashions followed their fashions – knee-length breeches over stockings, ruffled cravats at the neck and tailcoats
Early 20th century
By the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century, men’s trousers crept down the leg and became more the length we are used to today. But golfers were a little unsure about this development, so their solution was to tuck their full-length trousers into their long socks! In fact, if you were on the course in 1910 or 1920, you would have seen men wearing full morning suits with jacket and tie – not the ideal dress for the game!
Scottish inspired plaid was a strong trend on the course and this can still be seen in fashions today. Sturdy shoes and a tweed cap were the perfect finishing touches for these men as they tackled their 18 holes.
As fashion in society as a whole became less stuffy and uptight, you would have expected that golfers would do the same. But fashion change was slow to come with the sport. Men did start to get rid of their heavy formal jackets, but ties were still required and that strange habit of tucking trousers into socks remained.
Part of the reason for the formal attire was that it was a game played mostly by ‘gentlemen’ or those who were better off than the masses. Their style on the course was an extension of their separation from the rest of society.
As the period went by, things did start to change. By the 1930s, it was common to see ‘knickers’ being ditched in favour of flannel trousers, usually grey or white. This was because many men went straight from work to play and didn’t need to change. Neckties were also on their way out – the 1933 US Open saw men playing without them due to the extreme temperatures.
By the 1940s, styles were coming closer to those we recognise today. Short sleeve knitted shirts with a longer tail and trousers made from lightweight material in various colours were common as were sturdy shoes that had spiked soles. Jackets were worn and were often on the baggy side to allow movement while the cardigan was often seen on the course. It was the first time that shorts also became acceptable, usually in khaki or tan shades.
Arnold Palmer was one person credited with changing golf fashion in the 1950s with his Oxford shoes, cotton shirt and tan trousers. The knitted shirt was based on the Lacoste design for tennis players and began to appear in eye-searing colours.
Bright colours were now a part of golf attire and the use of clever manmade fabrics first started in the 1960s. Player began to be known for what they wore as much as their game with nicknames such as the ‘Peacock of the fairways’ for Doug Sanders with his matching socks and shirts.
The turtleneck and mock turtleneck appeared on the course during the 1970s while the trend of eye-searing colours continued. TV started to show golf tournaments, and this meant amateur players around the world started to emulate the fashion of their professional heroes.
The 1980s saw those manmade fabrics start to become smarter and more useful for the golfer – stretch fabrics and moisture wicking were examples while waterproof leathers were also seen for the first time. Greg Norman was the classic style icon and even had his own range of clothing.
In the 1990s, sponsorship and branded clothing began to feature everywhere on the course as professionals signed big money deals with companies such as Nike. Other revived the traditional Scottish elements such as Payne Stewart with his tartan sweaters and knickers.
Golf clothing gets clever
Since the turn of the millennial, golf fashion has continued to develop along the same lines with the development of clever clothing that helps the golfer’s game is at the heart of golf fashion. Products such as the Galvin Green waterproof jacket show that golf clothing can now be very stylish but also help the player.
Alongside the clever clothing is the development of the understanding of how to wear golf clothing to help your game. Gone are the days of the baggy jacket but instead well-fitting clothes are used – because too much material just gets in the way of the swing. Similarly, trousers are fitted to ensure there is no extra material flapping around the legs.
Fashion will remain a big part of golf for the same two reasons as it always has – because players want to look good but also wants to play at all times of the year and that means were practical as well as stylish clothing.