No sport has anything approaching the lingering sartorial naffness that pervades golf. From most others, a degree of style can be salvaged: slithery polyester soccer kit can be worn under a bomber jacket, the chunky V-neck cricketer’s jumper atop jeans. But shifting knee-high Argyle socks and baggy plus fours into your everyday wardrobe has presented a significant challenge, with the short answer being don’t.
Golf style has long been derided as outmoded. It’s a look that has remained virtually unchanged since Jerry Leadbetter teed off in The Good Life in the mid-’70s, but has more recently been wedded in our minds with the slightly comedic sight of former US president Donald Trump trundling over the links at Mar-a-Lago, MAGA cap in hand.
Nevertheless, golf has an enduring popularity: one that’s been rising in recent times. Both the UK and US reported soaring numbers of games last year: rounds played were up by 12 per cent in the UK in 2020 according to Sports Marketing Surveys (and that in spite of Covid closures), with similar numbers being reported in the US.
Understandably, retailers are responding to this uptick: this month, MatchesFashion is launching a golf-gear category to capitalise on the new interest, as well as to provide kit to suit more fashion-minded sports. “After several seasons of growth in activewear, we have evolved to include discipline-specific ranges, including golf,” says Damien Paul, the retailer’s head of menswear. The buy includes technical jackets and trousers from specialist brands such as Castore Golf, Kjus and J.Lindeberg. “Bogner Golf incorporates innovative technology for maximum performance on the green – think UV-protected jackets and T-shirts with high necks,” adds Paul, “while the Ralph Lauren Golf collection has moisture-wicking polo shirts and luxurious wool sweaters.”
And from the fairways to the runways, designers have expressed a new affection for golf fashion, liberally laden with that heavy dose of irony that so much modern style demands. The latest round of men’s collections for spring/summer ’21 feature wry nods to golfing attire, old and new(ish), conscious or otherwise: Jun Takahashi’s Undercover proposes Argyles; Véronique Nichanian at Hermès offers a deluxe take on the slacks and polos of the modern golfer; and Kim Jones’s Dior collection includes wide-leg, vintage-style high-cut shorts in a pastel palette, and worn with sleeveless knits. And there are even soft berets, a Frenchified take on the traditional golfer’s floppy flat cap.
Many of those references, like so much in fashion, can be traced back to Miuccia Prada. In 2011, on a carpet of blindingly bright green Astroturf, Prada paraded a collection inspired by midcentury golf style, with cartoonish prints, pastel colours and models toting crystal-embellished Prada tour bags. Miuccia Prada hates golf, but said she wanted an excuse to make something eccentric for men. “By chance I saw a book of golfers,” she comments. “And they were insane!”
Those idiosyncratic looks have influenced others: the rapper-producer Tyler, The Creator sells striped cardigans, pastel utility vests and socks with emblems under his Golf Wang line. “That’s my least favourite sport, to be honest,” Tyler told Billboard – he just likes the word. Pharrell Williams has also adopted the golfing look, but he is an actual fan: his golf bag is custom-made by Hermès, and he once remarked that “golf is where sport and fashion come together”.
Historically, it did. In the early years of the 20th century, golf was seen as dynamic and modern, an arena in which men could propose fashion-forward looks that wound up influencing the world. In the 1920s, Edward, Prince of Wales – the future Duke of Windsor – was a trendsetter whose golfing trews were so exaggeratedly baggy that Diana Cooper dubbed them his “plus twenties”. Wearing them with bright Argyle socks and Fair Isle sweaters, he fashioned a new casual uniform for men that combined sport and leisure. As the diplomat Nicholas Lawford commented: “He was quite loud in the way he mixed his checks, but he represented style to his generation.” He also influenced the world of fashion: in 1924, Gabrielle Chanel designed costumes for the Ballet Russes’ debut performance of Le Train Bleu based on sportswear. The costume of the Polish dancer Leon Woizikowski was based on Edward’s instantly recognisable golfing attire – the high-performance sportswear of its day.
Today, it’s easy to gesture towards golf in your wardrobe: perhaps inspired by Tyler and Pharrell, younger generations are incorporating signature golf styles like cropped trousers, high-tugged socks and a sickly-pastel palette. But they carry the imprimatur cool of hip-hop rather than the patina of retirement-age golf holidays. Plus fours – or, indeed, plus twenties – may be a harder sell.
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