Technology has not only changed the way golf is played, it has changed the way it looks, too. In a game that demands function blend as seamlessly as possible with style, the looks sported by players have evolved from formal and elegant into freer and brasher designs for performance. Still, the spirit of golf attire has remained businesslike, from the three-piece suits of Tommy Armour to the sleek, Burberry-styled outfits of Adam Scott.
By Woody Hochswender
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Since golf was born on the wind-swept links of Scotland, golfers have taken their style cues from their Scottish forebears. In the early days, men wore knickers, derived from the knee breeches of English court dress, usually with a thick tweed jacket and even a waistcoat. Bulky tweeds provided a warm, thorn-proof shield against the elements, but were hardly conducive to a powerful shoulder turn. Golfers also wore shirts with starched collars and ties. Sturdy shoes and a tweed cap completed the outfit. Stylish men from Piping Rock to Pebble Beach emulated their counterparts at St. Andrews, and still do. Plaid, based on Scottish tartans, remains a staple of golf style.
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Golf gains mass popularity, but remains a gentleman's sport. Affluent players, determined to distinguish themselves from their more plebeian counterparts, pay serious attention to their apparel. The well-dressed golfer typically wore plus fours (that is, knickers cut about four inches longer than usual), golf hose with a pattern, two-tone "spectator" shoes, shirt and tie. A knitted cardigan was often worn on brisk days, and in sharp weather a Norfolk jacket, with vertical box pleats, was added.
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By the 1930s, golfers were abandoning their knickers in favor of flannel trousers, usually white or gray. The shift was practical because many men went directly from the office to the course. Golfers also began playing without neckties. The 1933 U.S. Open was played during a severe heat wave, inspiring more lightweight, less formal clothes, though Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen continued to wear foulard silk ties. Men's style magazines devoted pages to the wardrobe of Bobby Jones.
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Golfwear settled into a basic uniform still recognizable today: a short-sleeved knitted shirt, with a longer tail; lightweight slacks of various colors; sturdy shoes with spiked soles; and a snap-brim hat in porkpie shape. Waist-length jackets, inspired by the famous Eisenhower jacket of World War II appeared on the course. With roomy shoulders for a healthy swing and a waistband for a snug fit, they were made of water-repellent cotton. Shorts became acceptable, usually tan or khaki, but also checkered Bermudas. The shell-stitch alpaca cardigan sweater, with bell-shaped sleeves for easy swinging, became a staple.
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The man in the gray flannel suit turned into a peacock as '50s golf clothes were ablaze with color. The knitted golf shirt, based on the Lacoste shirt invented for tennis, was matched with increasingly colorful trousers and shorts, ushering in an era when golf style became an enduring joke. However, the emergence of Arnold Palmer changed the game's look. The King was all coiled muscular energy, and his clothescotton shirt, lightweight tan trousers, oxford shoes emphasized his athleticism.
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To the wild colors of the '50s add synthetic fabrics especially nylon and polyester in brown, orange and yellow. Ban-Lon shirts and nylon windbreakers ruled. The country club and the street were in different universes. The caddies looked like hippies; the players looked like Tom Jones playing Vegas. A notable exception was Chi Chi Rodriguez, slim, slouchy and cool. Doug Sanders, a stylish dresser whose socks often matched his shirts, was known as "the peacock of the fairways." The great South African golfer, Gary Player, became conspicuous for his all-black outfits amid the reigning riot of color.
8 of 11Walter Iooss/SI
The nadir of golf style, and perhaps all American fashion. Golfers wore trousers purple, magenta, and kelly green that could only be worn on a golf course, and paired the likes of brown polyester with orange nylon. As in the office, men wore turtlenecks and mock turtlenecks on the course. The hound's-tooth pattern became a staple of '70s golfwear, on both pants and shirts. The emergence of golf on TV increased the style influence of pros such as Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller.
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The Reagan era kicked off with Caddyshack. Curiously, the slapstick comedy paralleled a revival of interest in golf and a return to tradition in clothing, with a technological twist: stretch fabrics; moisture-wicking shirts; and waterproof leathers. In 1989, Footjoy introduced DryJoys, a traditional golf shoe with waterproof leather. Golfers stepped into designer clothes. No one embodied this change more than Greg Norman, who left his mark with big hats, bold colors, and his own "Shark" clothing line.
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The age of sponsorship changed the look of golf, as leading pros flew the colors and logos of their manufacturers. Clothing makers from Levi's to Tommy Hilfiger jumped into the game. Payne Stewart revived the Scottish-links look, with dandified knickers and tartan sweaters. With the democratization of the sport, a countertrend toward the casual emerged with acid colors, long shorts and slouchy shirts. Fred Couples epitomized the grown-up look: pleated gabardine trousers, polo shirt, visor. All business.
11 of 11Getty Images (Woods), Darren Carroll (Baddeley), Wire Image (Villegas), Robert Beck/SI (Garcia).
2000 & Beyond
Athleticism and performance rule as golfwear becomes a fertile ground for technical innovation and celebrities give the game a new coolness. Golf clothes are endowed with increasingly exotic technical features: shirts with stretch panels and fabrics that block sunlight; trousers with vents and zippered pockets; and moistureproofing materials that give new meaning to the term "no sweat." Sneakerlike golf shoes compete with old-time saddle shoes. Young stars like Camilo Villegas wear formhugging gear in colors that pop, while the top players Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh keep it simple with darker hues and full cut armholes for a free swing.
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