Golf has evolved from a social game throughout the 1800s and 1900s to more of an athletic endeavor in the 20th century. Dressing for a golf match requires you to know the appropriate clothing. What has been deemed appropriate golf wear depends on the time period. The definition of "proper golf attire" continues to evolve.
Golf in the early days, circa the 17th century, was played in clothing designed to keep players warm and dry in the damp, windy weather of Scotland, where the game of golf developed. A painting of Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587), known affectionately as the "Mother of Golf," shows her wearing a floor-length dress, fitted coat, gloves and headpiece. The men are outfitted in shirts, breeches, hose, a doublet and an overgown – a type of coat. Swinging a golf club comfortably was difficult in all these restrictive clothes.
Through the 1800s, golf attire still followed the dress of the day. A painting of golfers playing St. Andrews during that era shows them in tight-fitting pants tucked into boots, a shirt vest with ruffled collars and sleeves, jacket and hats. Typical clothing for women golfers was a two-piece outfit with an A-line skirt that ended a few inches above the ground. Blouses were tight, which constricted women's swings.
Early 20th Century
Men, either as a nod of respect to the game, or because they raced out to play right after work, wore business-type dress shirts and ties, sometimes with suit coats, sometimes with sweaters. In the early 1920s, women wore two-piece jersey dresses, which did give them more freedom for their swing.
Mid 20th Century
Most golf clubs adopted dress codes that allowed for roomier long pants, a short-sleeved knit shirt with wider armholes and, on colder days, sweaters rather than a sports coat. Golf became more of a game of power rather than finesse. Golfers looked for comfortable, looser-fitting clothes. Women still wore skirts, but transitioned into pants and even shorts. Brighter colors and patterns invaded the pro shops. To stand out from the crowd, some players on the PGA Tour, such as Doug Sanders, led the way with bold colors and individualistic attire.
Proper Golf Attire Today
Most private clubs and many public golf courses still have rules for "proper golf attire." It has come to be accepted that men wear long pants, or, at some clubs, Bermuda-length shorts, in addition to a shirt with collar and sleeves, golf shoes and a sweater or jacket if needed. Denim and cutoffs are not allowed. Many courses require golf shoes to have rubber spikes, rather than metal ones, to reduce damage to the greens. Women wear golf skirts, long pants, capris or shorts. Women's shirts should should have a collar, but women may wear sleeveless shirts if they have collars.
One of the joys of watching the professional golf tours these days is seeing what certain trendsetters such as Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis and Rickie Fowler wear when they play. Keep in mind that their outfits may not be accepted at more conservative golf clubs. Winning tournaments is their first priority, of course, but pro golfers also use clothes to establish a memorable identity for themselves, which helps them build a fan base and generate endorsements.