Lady Golfers: Fashionable and Mannish: 1899-1900

Miss Sibyl Whigham, champion lady golfer, c. 1907

Miss Sibyl Whigham, champion lady golfer, c. 1907

To-day is the final round of the Ryder Cup golf championship, pitting the United States against Europe’s finest, in an effort to see which team can design the most appalling golf jumpers. Let us see how well the costumes of the lady golfers of the past stood up to critical scrutiny.


We once had the pleasure of seeing a woman champion play golf. She wore a simple pink shirt waist and a plain brown skirt that fell to her ankles. To these add unattractive black stockings and low-cut tan shoes—and there you have her.

This picture is particularly interesting when you compare it with that of the fashion-plate golfer. The correctly dressed player, we see, must wear one of three hats. The first is “in rough straw and of helmet shape bound on the edge with velvet and trimmed with a soft scarf of silk twisted carefully around the crown. Then there are hats of stitched pique to wear with white golf suits. The bamboo hat is the lightest and coolest variety, and very pretty in its light cream tints. One point of fashion which must be observed is the absence of the stiff, long quill, so prominent last season.” Again, we learn, “Some striking color seems to be necessary to a picturesque effect upon the golf links, and while there is an attempt to introduce green, red, and golf pink are the favorites, the green forming no contrast in the landscape picture.”

Thus we see that the woman golfer should always consider herself as a part of the landscape. She may play skillfully in green—she may even lead the field; but as she has been forgetful of the landscape she must be described as a failure. According to this idea, the best player on the links must be the woman dressed entirely in scarlet, and topped with a black Gainsborough hat that throws a shadow like a tree. Is this ridiculous? No, not at all. The oracle is at work: “Athletic women who love the sport for itself alone are inclined to be very careless in their dress, thinking, no doubt, that their skill offsets any deficiency in their appearance, which is a huge mistake.”

We ourselves are passionately, inveterately, fond of fashionable clothes. It is for this reason alone that we take the Providence Journal. Yet we must say that at a woman’s championship golf tournament which we attended a few years ago the most fashionably dressed players were the worst. Nor have we yet seen a woman champion attired as if bound for a fireman’s ball. The Boston [MA] Journal 5 June 1900: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The notion that the fashionable woman golfer should be ever mindful of her place in the landscape is very like one we have previously considered in a post entitled “Woman Decorative in Her Motor Car.” The author, one Emily Burbank, firmly believed that women should consider themselves as decorative accessories. In an outdoors setting, following this train of thought to its logical conclusion would require lady golfers to assume the guise of classical statuary. One conjures up mental pictures of foursomes of ladies posing like the Three Graces before the water hazards or in bathing costume in the bunkers. Enough to put anyone off their game.

Similar advice comes from a book winsomely entitled: Our Lady of the Green, A Book of Ladies’ Golf, which is dedicated to “To All Sporting and Plucky Golfers of Our Sex.”

Let us now consider the question of dress! Any great woman worthy of the name must always wish to present as neat and pleasing a dress appearance as possible. And that it is possible for women to do this and yet play golf well is clearly proved by the smart and yet business-like “turn-outs” seen at many an inter-club match, and on many a medal day.

Yet I grieve to say there are some women golfers who bring our sex into ridicule by wearing as “mannish ” clothes as possible. They are to be seen with soft hunting ties, loose red shapeless coats, and the shortest and narrowest of bicycling skirts. Why bicycling skirts for golf? the reader may be moved to ask. Why indeed! After giving the subject much thought, the only obvious explanation is, that bicycling skirts are made to open at the sides, and are thus very adaptable for side pockets. To show the use of these pockets I must endeavour to draw a thumb-nail sketch of a golfer of this description, attired in complete armour. Her hair is dragged up into a knot on the top of  her head, on to which a man’s cap is fixed “mannish” (how is not apparent); underneath is a woman, face tan-coloured from constant exposure to the elements, without any of the protection which an ordinary sailor-hat affords. A soft white hunting tie, fastened with a pin (an emblem of the game in some form or other), a loose red coat, and a narrow bicycling skirt, into the aforesaid pockets of which the wearer rams both hands when they are not required for golfing purposes; then, as a fitting climax, a pair of thick, clumsily-made boots. It is needless to add that the attitudes and manners are quite as “mannish ” as the clothes.

Now as no picture of this kind can be thoroughly appreciated without its antithesis, let me draw another. A neat sailor-hat, surmounting 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 a pair of well-made walking-boots with nails or Scafe’s patent soles. Our Lady of the Green, A Book of Ladies’ Golf, edited by Louie Mackern and M. Boys, (London: Lawrence and Bullen, 1899)

Mrs Daffodil grieves to find that, even today, women athletes are more often criticised for their sporting costumes (or lack thereof) than lauded for their skill.





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