What Grandma Used to Wear :-)

May 12th, 2009 | By | Category: Features, In The Hole!
When we stumbled across vintage clothing afficiando Lizzie Bramlett, whose delightful blog can be read here, we suspected right away that she’d be wealth of information about vintage golf fashions.
Got polka dots! By the 1960s, women golfers were free to wear shorts on the course -- but that wasn't always the case.

Got polka dots! By the 1960s, women golfers were free to wear shorts on the course -- but that wasn't always the case.

We invited her to share a bit of what she knows — and she didn’t disappoint! Read on to enjoy her article on the evolution of women’s golf apparel. And the pics. Aren’t they a delight? (And if you happen to see us on the course dressed in a vintage look, don’t be surprised. We think we may have fallen in love with a couple of these outfits . . . )

Women’s golf fashion: a peek into the past

by Lizzie Bramlett

Not long after it was first invented in the 1870s, the game of golf found its way from Scotland into the United States and Canada. America’s first country clubs weren’t far behind — and from the beginning, they functioned as social gathering places: places where young men and women could meet one another.

As such, it was important for the women to be fashionably, if impractically, dressed.

This illustration from an 1894 Harper's Bazaar shows a typical ensemble from golf's early days. It wasn't entirely practical however. Full swings were hindered by blouse sleeves that were too fitted. The skirt often caught the club as it swept by.

This illustration from an 1894 Harper's Bazaar shows a typical ensemble from golf's early days. It wasn't entirely practical however. Full swings were hindered by blouse sleeves that were too fitted. The skirt often caught the club as it swept by. Image courtesy Lizzie Bramlet.

Soon, however, women became more serious about the game, and as golf courses that catered to the middle class were opened, women golfers began wearing simpler costumes.  Illustrations from the 1890s show women golfers wearing very practical ensembles — usually am a-line skirt an inch or two above the ground, topped with a blouse.

But even this outfit hindered women in their game.  The blouse or jacket sleeves were often too fitted to allow a full swing of the arms.  And clubs were sometimes caught in those lengthy skirts.

These problems were partially solved in 1904 when Thomas Burberry of England developed and marketed a special women’s golf coat called the “Free-stroke Coat.”  It had a patented sleeve that allowed much freer movement of the arms.  Burberry also made a special skirt that could be shortened about six to eight inches through the use of a looping drawstring.

Illustration from a 1913 Burberry Thermo Coat Sweater ad. In 1904, Thomas Burberry of London introduced improvements into women's golf clothing design including the "Free-stroke Coat". He also brought back the raisable skirt which had been popular decades earlier with crochet players. Through the use of a drawstring, the skirt could be raised up to eight inches or so above the ground.  Illustration courtesy Lizzie Bramlett.

Illustration from a 1913 Burberry Thermo Coat Sweater ad. In 1904, Thomas Burberry of London introduced improvements into women's golf clothing design including the "Free-stroke Coat". He also brought back the raisable skirt which had been popular decades earlier with crochet players. Through the use of a drawstring, the skirt could be raised up to eight inches or so above the ground. Image courtesy Lizzie Bramlett.

Women continued to wear their skirt, blouse and jacket ensembles for golf in the beginning of the 20th century.  However, improvements were made to the back of the blouses. Pleats were introduced that allowed for more freedom of movement. Also, skirts began to get shorter.  By 1909, knitted sweaters were replacing the jacket, and jersey knit was introduced as a fabric for blouses and skirts.

By the 1920s many women golfers were wearing two piece dresses comprising a jersey knit top worn over a matching pleated skirt.  Golf dresses were rather plain, as ruffles and such tended to get in the way.  Women golfers, like the men, often wore patterned stockings.

Beginning around 1921, you sometimes see photos and drawings of women wearing tweed knickers and argyle stockings on the golf course.  This was not acceptable in most areas, however, as pants of any kind on women was still not allowed in social situations.

Illustration from a Bonwit Teller catalogue, 1925. One-piece golf dress.  began appearing in the 1920s. New York's Best & Co., for instance, sold a dress they called the "Shirtmaker."  This one-piece frock was perfect for golf and other active sports, and was so popular that it was widely copied; it became the most popular golf dress style for the next 30 years. Image courtesy of Lizzie Bramlett.

Illustration from a Bonwit Teller catalogue, 1925. One-piece golf dress. began appearing in the 1920s. New York's Best & Co., for instance, sold a dress they called the "Shirtmaker." This one-piece frock was perfect for golf and other active sports, and was so popular that it was widely copied; it became the most popular golf dress style for the next 30 years. Image courtesy Lizzie Bramlett.

In the 1920s, many golfers continued to wear sweaters over skirts or two piece jersey dresses, but by 1925 the sportswear departments of leading clothing stores were selling one piece dresses for golf.  In 1926 Best and Company, a New York City store with branches in many resort areas, made a one piece sports dress they called the “Shirtmaker.”  This shirt dress proved perfect for golf and for casual wear, and was the standard golf attire for the next three decades.

During the 1930s and 40s, women’s golf clothing followed fashion somewhat, but dressmakers and designers were coming up with ways to make golf dresses more suited to the sport.  Pleated vents in the back of the bodice, buttons on sleeves and pockets were common features.  Unlike the tennis dress, the golf dress pretty much followed fashion as to length.  Because the game was not as active as tennis, there was never a need to shorten the skirt.

By the late 1950s it was becoming acceptable for women to wear knee length shorts on most courses.

Still, the most correct ensemble at a country club in the early 1960s was a knee length skirt topped with a blouse and a cashmere sweater, or for hot weather, a cotton golf dress which was often sleeveless.

In the 50s, L.A. designer DeDe Johnson is credited with creating the pedal pusher, because, it's said, she wanted us gals to be able to ride bikes without getting our skirts caught in the chain.

L.A. designer DeDe Johnson (the woman credited with creating the pedal pusher) looks fabulous in this 1952 pic. Note the gloves on both hands and the bobby socks. Image courtesy Lizzie Bramlet.

In the 1960s, the skort became very popular with women golfers.  As skirts got shorter in the mid 1960s, the skort was a good solution to wearing a fashionable length without the risk of over-exposure!

Over the next decades, women abandoned the golf dress for the more practical shorts, skorts, and slacks.  Of course, in the past few years, the golf dress has made a comeback.  Today’s version, however, is more like a tennis dress, and is usually made from a knit with Lycra added — because in today’s world, style and comfort, and most important of all, ease of play, are what matter to the woman golfer.

For many (many!) more pictures of vintage women’s golf clothing, visit Lizzie’s website here.

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