At the U.S. Open, fashion is swinging colorful

Ian Poulter of England in plaid. Poulter, who has his own golf fashion line, has been known to wear American and British flag pants. In Merion, the USGA's 26,000-square-foot merchandise pavilion is glowing with apparel in greens, oranges, and pinks.
Ian Poulter of England in plaid. Poulter, who has his own golf fashion line, has been known to wear American and British flag pants. In Merion, the USGA's 26,000-square-foot merchandise pavilion is glowing with apparel in greens, oranges, and pinks. (ALAN DIAZ / Associated Press)
Posted: June 12, 2013

Some of menswear's hottest trends - shrunken silhouettes, pops of color, and, yes, Justin Bieber hair - have finally landed on the golf course.

Although the monochromatic neons (hello Rickie Fowler) or print-on-print combos (fore, Ian Poulter!) are mainly favored by the sport's fashion-forward younger players - Tiger Woods' biggest risk is wearing power red - it should make for a vivid U.S. Open.

Right on par with its trendy Main Line backdrop.

"For a while there, golf was pretty boring and bland," said Christina Snyder, a California-based golf fashion blogger and stylist for golf players. "There are more colors and bold prints. The younger players like Fowler are taking chances. They are even bringing accessories to the mix."

The shift in golf fashion that has gained momentum over the last five years mirrors that of mainstream menswear trends, and an iridescent 2012 summer Olympics (remember all those neon-yellow track shoes?) seems to have had lasting effects.

The fashion excitement has started already. Last week the U.S. Golf Association opened a 26,000-square-foot merchandise pavilion on the Merion fairways that is glowing in greens, oranges, and pinks - proof the conservative sport is finding its way out of the navy blue and khaki woods.

Because the golf course's layout prevents one contiguous tent, two additional tents (one 7,200 square feet, the other 4,800) were erected to accommodate all the fashion.

On Friday morning, the main tent was busy with mostly men - this is the one place where males are expected to out-shop women - eager to get their hands on a U.S. Open 2013 souvenir fashion item.

"I know these will look great on me," said Jeff Kohler, 56, an avid golfer holding up a pair of cool mint green Ralph Lauren seersucker shorts.

"I'm going to buy these, give them to my wife to wrap up, then when I open it, I'll look very surprised on Father's Day."

Despite a lowly style reputation, golf aficionados fuel a big fashion business. In recent years, the U.S. Open's shopping pavilion has taken in nearly $10 million annually, mostly from apparel sales, said Mary Lopuszynski, USGA's senior director of licensing and merchandising.

This year, Lopuszynski said, the USGA expects to complete more than 100,000 transactions at the merch tent's 36 cash registers.

The USGA began working with fashion brands in August to design items that incorporate the 2013 Open's logo - a flagstick topped by a wicker basket.

Ralph Lauren is the title sponsor - they manufacture about 20,000 items, including polo shirts made from perspiration-resistant fabric in neons and navies, and women's plaid golf skirts with built-in shorts.

There's also Under Armour, Nike, and Puma. There are Lilly Pulitzer scarves, ties imprinted with golf balls from preppy Vineyard Vines, and shorts with embroidered flip-flops by well-known golf manufacturer Fairway.

Even smaller specialty stores have a shot. Texas-based hat designer Melissa M. Gotfredson sells out of her wide-brimmed canvas women's hats every year. (She sells the only hats made in America in the pavilion.) Annika Sorenstam's women's golf apparel in soft shades is there as well.

Each company sends representatives from New York to sell their wares to create a specialty-store experience.

Despite the increased offerings, the majority of players still gravitate to reliable khakis and pastels. But it's not entirely their fault: Golf's got a bunch of fashion rules. Men in the pros can't wear shorts and all of their shirts must have collars. Women can wear shorts, but only within four inches above the knee. Sleeveless shirts must be collared; however women are allowed to wear collarless shirts with sleeves.

So to display any sense of individual style means using patterns. Poulter, who has his own golf fashion line, has been known to wear American and British flag pants.

The Travis Mathew company has incorporated graphic T-designs on polo shirts, a big deal in the golf world. And in a nod to Fowler - who wears all-orange on Sundays - New Era has designed orange plaid baseball caps, which Lopuszynski expects will sell very well. Hats are the tents' No. 1 seller, she said.

Sponsoring sports apparel companies historically have had a say in golf fashion, too, because if the brands didn't make a bold-colored shirt, well, the player couldn't wear it. Now as bigger companies like Puma - Fowler's sponsor - see fashion-forward men gravitating toward the sport, they are jazzing up their offerings. Smaller start-ups focusing on niche fashion see opportunities as well. The world is definitely opening up.

"The fashions are really extensions of the golfers," said Elizabeth Noblitt, a Seattle-based golf blogger and stylist with the website shishiputter.com. "As golf attracts a younger demographic, things in golf fashion are changing."


Contact Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or ewellington@phillynews.com. Follow her on Twitter @ewellingtonphl.

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