FAIRWAY LIFE

OLYMPIC GOLF FASHION: 1904 TO 2016

Feb 01, 2017

At the St. Louis Olympic Games in 1904, woods were made of wood. By 2016, the only organic materials left in a golfer's bag were tees.

The technical evolution of equipment over the past century has been astounding. But it's not the only evolution, or even the most notable one. That title belongs to what golfers wear, not swing, on the course.

When most people think of vintage golf fashion, the classic knickers—a look rekindled by the late Payne Stewart—come to mind. But they didn't take hold in the United States until the 1920s.

The 1904 Olympic golf competition was the last time golfers played for a medal. At that time, golfers more closely resembled a look of country formality—a more casual version of the refined spectators.

Golfers sometimes discarded coats in favor of a vest and shirt combination, or a simple shirt. Brimmed hats often were traded for a flat cap. With knickers not yet in vogue, pants reached down to players' shoes.

Still, there are two words you'd never use to describe golf attire of 1904, two words that define the apparel of 2016: lightweight and breathable.

1904 OLYMPIC GOLF COMPETITION

Events at the 1904 Olympic Games were spread across more than four months in St. Louis. The Golf competition took place in September at Glen Echo Country Club, which was only three years old at the time of the competition.

American golfers finished in 15 of the top 16 spots in the 1904 Games. The one they didn't nab? Gold. That went to 46-year-old Canadian George Lyon (posing left at the 1904 Olympics).

Lyon, who grew up a cricketer and didn't start playing golf until he was 37, defeated 21-year-old American Chandler Egan.

By the time Lyon finished his golfing career, he had won the Canadian Amateur Championship eight times.

He remains the reigning gold medalist in the event more than 100 years after it last crowned a champion.

HATS

1904

The flat cap, the most popular choice for golfers in the early twentieth century, had decidedly casual origins.

It was worn by non-nobles in sixteenth century Britain and continued to demarcate those of country origin in later centuries. It was a natural choice, then, for golfers as they roamed expansive courses on either side of the Atlantic.

While perhaps more practical than wide-brimmed hats favored by businessmen and spectators, it was still a solid wool garment, comforting in cooler British climes but not well-suited for warmer locales.

2016

Fast-forward to 2016. Baseball-style hats are worn by athletes in virtually every sport, from sideline quarterbacks to backup hockey goalies and everyone in between.

For the 2016 Rio Games, Team USA will wear an Adidas FlexFit hat made of moisture-wicking polyester and polyurethane. This blend of fabric—which makes no design sacrifices for the sake of athletic functionality—was inconceivable to the 1904 competitors.

Polyester fabric wasn't invented until 1941 and didn't make its way to U.S. factories until 1950. Needless to say, wool has no place in Rio.

SHIRTS

1904

An early-twentieth century gentleman was expected to wear multiple layers, regardless of weather. Three-piece suits were fashionable, meaning that a long-sleeve shirt, vest (waistcoat), and jacket were standards of daily wear.

Those restrictions loosened for athletes, who sought to avoid the constraints of three sets of heavy fabrics.

Chandler Egan (pictured left at the St. Louis Olympics) represented a youthful and comparably brash approach to golf fashion—loose shirt, no vest or coat, and sleeves rolled above the elbows.

He also eschewed a hat, which, while not entirely unheard of among golfers, was a staple of men's fashion until John F. Kennedy ended the trend during his presidency.

Wearing ties was not uncommon either. Even in their absence, many golfers kept their collars buttoned tightly. Caddies maintained full coat and tie throughout a round.

2016

Unless chilly weather demands it, you're unlikely to find long sleeves on any modern golfer. (They're certainly out of the question for Rio.) Short sleeves and flexible fabrics mean greater mobility and comfort.

The Adidas ClimaChill Team USA polos are 100% polyester and designed to keep players cool. The back of the collar is even vented to allow body heat to escape.

ClimaChill technology also includes aluminum cooling spheres and the latest moisture-wicking fabric designs to pull sweat away from a golfer's body.

For Team USA, this latest technological advance is arriving just in time for Rio.

PANTS

1904

Pants have defined golf fashion more than any other element, although knickers didn't reach their peak popularity until a couple of decades after the St. Louis Games.

In 1904 golfers still appeared as a more casual version of the average man—a distinct style on the links had not yet developed.

The practicality of long pants versus knickers tucked into high socks is up for debate (as is the fashion sensibility of the choice), but the more conservative approach of the early 1900s left most golfers in their standard trousers. Only a few high-socked players pushed the trend forward.

2016

Even in the warmest climates, long pants have remained part of golf. It's a testament to the game's tradition and attachment to its rich history.

Keeping the tradition has been made far easier by the advance in clothing technology. In fact, it may be the primary reason that PGA pros still walk courses in Tennessee in June and Alabama in July without protest.

Take the latest Adidas ClimaCool pants, part of the Team USA wardrobe. They're ultra-lightweight, include a water-resistant finish, stretch waistband, and moisture-wicking fabric.

Mesh gussets down the inner leg aid breathability, as do micromesh pocket bags.

A lingering sensibility for looks adds a bottom slit to fit stylishly over shoes.

SHOES

1904

The only consistency between golf shoes today versus those of more than 100 years may be the primary material: leather.

Golf shoes date to the mid-nineteenth century and have always featured spikes. Early spikes, however, were little more than nails protruding from the bottom of the shoe—and they occasionally made an unwelcome return back through the sole.

Advances in spike technology didn't always impress course managers, as many early designs caused significant damage to the manicured lawns.

The "saddle oxford" shoe, the definitive design for most of the twentieth century, didn't arrive on the market until 1906, two years after the St. Louis Games.

2016

Golf shoes place a number of demands on manufacturers. They must be lightweight yet durable, comfortable yet resilient, providing just the right amount of grip at just the right time.

The Adidas adipure TP meets those criteria and adds timeless style—not to mention 100% genuine leather. That leather ensures a perfect fit to golfers' feet in any weather, and longevity.

The shoe's Glassfiber Torsion System (GTS) offers torsion control and support. A high-quality GTS system is a unique requirement of golf footwear, which is subjected to around 40 violent twists per round, to say nothing of the time at the range.

WHAT"S NEXT?

Golf's triumphant return to the Olympic Games has inspired and challenged Adidas: Inspired because of the historic return of the event and multi-billion-person television audience; challenged because Rio de Janeiro puts any athletic wear to the test.

Want to see more? Check out the full line of limited edition Team USA apparel here.