VII Women's Golf - The Fashion Pages

Lady Putter 1886Over the years, golf fashion has been the subject of widespread comment and criticism. While 'Plus 4s' have made a return, it is to be hoped that the fashions of the 1970s do not.

In early days of sport, people wore their normal clothes, though 18th and 19th century male golfers wore brightly coloured jackets to warn passers bye of the dangers of flying golf balls.

Victorian golf dress for women, including crinolines, bustles and multiple petticoats, was somewhat constricting and gave little opportunity for a free swing, which undoubtedly influenced the type of golf or putting that women enjoyed.

However, it should be borne in mind that the men's dress at this time consisted of Norfolk sporting jackets, shirts, ties, waistcoats and trousers.  

This unknown lady putter of 1886 at St Andrews is typical of the day. 

Miss Isette Pearson 1898Edwardian fashions, which followed, were no more accommodating.

Miss Isette Pearson, pictured here, was founder of the LGU and developer of universal handicap system, as well as a firm follower of Edwardian fashion.

Miss Pearson was a spinster for most of her life and then in her fifties, in 1912, married Tommy Miller Jnr, causing much comment in contemporary social circles. After he died a few years later, she is widely reported as having an open affair with the local vicar who had sired 7 illegitimate children as well as 8 legitimate ones. It is fair to say that Issette Pearson was not a woman who worried about what other people thought. 

Most of the younger women golfers however favoured a simpler style of straw boater, white blouse and long black skirt, seen in the picture of Lundin Ladies.

The impressive millenary of the day, which was de rigueur, was held in place by sturdy hat pins with golf motifs, which have now become collectors' items. Arm bands were also needed to be able to see the ball and skirt bands were worn to prevent the wind blowing it around. There were skirts with straps that could adjust the height and gloves were  usually worn. Women's golf dress at this time was more of an expeditionary effort than a leisure activity.

The general view of the women of the day was that anything that made the wearer conspicuous was out of place, as expressed by May Hazlet, winner of the Ladies Championship in 1899, 1902 and 1907 who particularly decried the use of 'shortest narrow bicycling skirts'.

A neat sailor-hat, surmounted a head beautifully coiffured, every hair of which is in its place at the end of the round. A smart red coat, a spotless linen collar and tie, an ordinary tailor made skirt and pair of well-made walking boots with mails of Scafe's patent soles.

By early 20th century, many women were wearing the same oversized flat caps as the men and shortly afterwards showing ankles became acceptable (earlier in America) which greatly relieved the muddy skirt problem.

Miss Joyce Wethered

Miss Joyce Wethered

By the time of the flapper era, golf dress was beginning to be more functional though still basically street wear. (Note the shoes.)

Joyce Wethered, pictured above, won the British Ladies Amateur Championship four times in 1922, 1924, 1925 and 1929 and the English Ladies' champion five years in a row between 1920–24. Bobby Jones called her the best golfer, male or female that he had ever seen. She gradually surpassed Cecil (Cecilia) Leitch who had won in 1914, 1920, 1921 and 1926.  Most people believe that Cecil would have won more titles had not the Great War (1914-18) intervened, during which there was no Championship.

The Great Stock Market Crash of 1929 affected the Wethered family fortune and for a brief period Joyce was forced to take a position as manageress of Fortnum and Mason's golf department, thereby losing her amateur status, before securing other professional engagements. Women's golf certainly did not afford the income opportunities that it does today, though Joyce played 52 matches in USA in 1935 earning some £4,000.

Joyce effectively retired from amateur golf in 1930 and became Lady Heathcote-Amory when she married in 1937, expressing the view that she was tired putting up with the bad treatment and crowd behaviour, including 'shoving', that sometimes accompanied golf matches.

Miss Gloria Minoprio 1933

Miss Gloria Minoprio Courtesy of Getty Images

Gloria Minoprio took part in the British Ladies Championship in 1933 in what was, quite simply, the smartest golfing outfit ever worn by any golfer. This was the first sight of a woman in trousers, called 'slacks', on the golf course and to say it caused a stir is an understatement. Her outfit is now in the possession of the R& A World Golf Museum in St Andrews.

Apart from her dress, her claim to immortal fame is that she played in the British Championship 1933-39 with only one club (and a spare) and once arrived at the tee late, in a yellow Rolls Royce.

Gloria was a self taught golfer, though she become a member of Royal Portrush Ladies Golf Club as part of her preparations for her final British Championship held there in 1939, where she obtained a handicap (with a full set of clubs).

She failed at her first attempt in 1933 even to get through the first round on Monday, prompting the memorable headline below, penned by Henry Longhurst, golfing correspondent of the Sunday Times and one-time Member of Parliament. 

Sic Transit Gloria Monday.

When she beat the 19-year old Betty Somerville in 1934, as much by gamesmanship as golf, and then went out the following day, Henry changed the headline to

Sic Transit Gloria Tuesday.

Henry Longhurst described her as 'the best dressed women golfer I ever saw, innumerable women have copied her', but, clearly, in his opinion, without success. However, she did change attitudes to dress and Helen Holm (Mrs AM Holm) who won the Ladies Championship in 1934 at Porthcawl, wore an almost identical outfit, though with a beret not a cloche hat. Trousers were here to stay, though, it should be noted that the LGU did not approve and had issued a statement in 1933 deploring the lack of decorum.

Virtually everything Gloria did was designed for show and she is the first modern 'reality star,' though with much more talent than those of today. Apart from playing golf, she was also a conjuror and magician of considerable skill and repute.

Gloria, whose real name was Dorothy, was what one might describe as a tortured soul with a complicated private life. Thought at the time to have been killed in the blitz, she in fact died of septicaemia in the Bahamas at 50 in 1958.

She remains the only golfer, man or woman, to win a major golf championship match with only one club.

This also marks the high point of golfing fashion.  The 1970s probably marks the low point.