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The History and Evolution of Men’s Golf Attire

the history of golf attire

Adam Scott photo by Monte Isom

Since the late 19th century, golf has been an established sport in the US, and for much of that time golf attire as a whole has been a popular topic of conversation, more so than any other sport.

Unofficially conceived in Scotland, North American golfers have historically taken their fashion cues from the sport’s founding fathers, wearing knickers, heavy tweed coats, and starched shirts as evidenced by this advertisement for golf attire in 1915. Over the years, typical golf course attire has become more comfortable and practical for the long days on the links and the physical demands on the players as evidenced by Nike’s Golf Club Dress Code line.

Golf attire in the early 1900’s

Golfers in the early 1900’s regularly wore knickers four inches longer than the standard, also called “plus fours”. They topped those with long-tailed white shirts, a single-breasted jacket- and on cooler days – a waistcoat. Long socks and golf shoes completed the outfit, which remained a staple for over a decade. Even as fashion trended toward longer pants, golfers did not conform, continuing to tuck their pants into their long socks on the course.

From plus fours to long pants

In the 1930’s, men began moving away from the traditional outfit of knickers or plus fours to plain flannel pants which they could wear straight from the office. They were, of course, still tucked into their socks. The formal jacket disappeared from the scene, as did the long necktie – which, for some, was replaced by a bow tie.

A drastic move towards comfort

The extreme heat wave during the 1933 U.S. Open forced the players to rethink their clothing, and many of them opted for lighter weight pants, thinner cotton shirts, and no ties. This event sparked a shift in acceptable golf attire, with players gradually foregoing the heavy-weight pants, jackets, and ties.

Bare knees were the bee’s knees

As the 30’s gave way to the 40’s, short sleeve shirts with long tails and lightweight pants became commonplace on the golf course. Golfers donned brimmed hats and waterproof “Eisenhower” jackets, made popular by the President himself. Shorts finally made an appearance, typically khaki… but some golfers with a bolder style were often seen in checkered Bermuda shorts, much like the ones of today.

the history of golf attire

The bold patterns seen in 1950's

The fabulous 50’s

At long last, gone were the days of brown tweed suits and grey flannel slacks on the golf course. In their place, men began sporting brightly colored pants, bold patterned shorts, and lightweight knit short-sleeved shirts. This new injection of color into their wardrobe seemed to bring with it a sense of overcompensation for the wardrobes of their predecessors.

The contest seemed to be less about who get the ball into the hole in fewer strokes, but more about who could wear the most ridiculous color combinations, or the greatest number of clashing patterns. Golf “fashion” quickly turned from stately and reserved, indicative of the status of the players themselves, into the laughing stock of the apparel industry.

Golf’s saving fashion grace was the King of golf himself, Arnold Palmer, who opted for more subdued selections, such as tan pants, short-sleeved Lacoste cotton shirts, and Oxford shoes with spikes. Many golfers followed suit, paving the way for today’s typical attire.

the history of men's golf attire

LoudMouth offers a wide selection of wild prints and colors

Modern-day golf attire: A healthy mix of yesterday’s tradition and today’s comfort and style

The evolution of golf attire has been nothing if not painful. From the heavy tweed pants and jackets of the early 1900’s to the loud, obnoxious prints of the 50’s and beyond, to the clean lines and neutral colors and patterns of today, the industry has seen some wild shifts. However, don’t for a minute think that the golf course is filled with tan pants and white cotton shirts.

Today’s golfer might just as well be in a pair of knickers and long plaid socks as he’d be in khaki shorts and a mint green polo.

Companies such as Loudmouth, who boasts wild patterns and bright colors in their clothing lines, compete for retail space right alongside Nike, known for their casual professional clothing lines, demonstrating the vast field of play today’s golf attire companies occupy.

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