A Friday morning headline that the LPGA is reining in some of its dress code requirements surprised me on two levels. First, it’s probably not the kind of tedious headline you want to come out during arguably the marquee major of the summer. Beyond that, it was a message I never expected to see verbalized by a for-profit professional tour.
There is marketability in short skirts, long legs and athletic ability, and like it or not, I can respect that the LPGA has to capitalize on what it has available. Golfers are athletes, and looking like athletes would understandably offer another angle to get sports fans interested in the game. When I find myself surprised at something I see a player wearing on a telecast, I generally chalk it up to something that's good for business. I’ve even verbalized that several times when friends have said, “How in the world is that within a golf dress code?” Usually it’s a very short skirt or the cut of a shirt that prompts the question.
The new dress code rules that were released to players, according to a Friday Golf Digest report, presented a strong stance on non-traditional golf wear including racerback tank tops, leggings, joggers and workout clothes. It’s a move I’m also chalking up to business. I’m not put off by the stricter regulations. In fact, I applaud the LPGA for steering its players back toward an appearance that better fits the tour’s identity. It’s not an unreasonable ask. (The reference to skirt and short length wasn’t even in inches but rather in amount of a player’s rear visible in various positions – extremely reasonable.)
It’s one thing to dress attractively and maybe even a little bit provocatively, and it’s another to buck all traditional attire. Tradition is not the only thing to make something good, but often it exists for some reason. Dress usually reveals a level of respect for a place or a person, and it goes a long way in making an impression. We’re all at the mercy of our employers – LPGA players are no different. For the most part, they’re at the mercy of the LPGA’s marketing vision.
One of the most-touted aspects of the LPGA brand is the fan experience. Fans, particularly young fans, have considerable opportunity to interact with players. The players have to be applauded for giving the tour this reputation. And as tour communications officer Heather Daly-Donofrio told Golf Digest, “The dress code requires players to present themselves in a professional manner to reflect a positive image for the game.” It makes sense.
Professional sports is a culture built around looks. Trends filter down from players to consumers, and I get that. It’s probably how women’s golf clothing trends turned more toward yoga and athleisure in the first place. There’s obviously money to be made within this trend. But in this sport – which, like it or not, is rooted heavily in tradition – there’s progressive, and then there’s overboard.
The new dress code regulations go into effect July 17, at the LPGA stop in Toledo, Ohio. I read the LPGA’s message as one sent with the intent of steering its image back toward something its fans are comfortable with and the game is known for. It’s the tour making a business move for its fans and its future, and it’s a good message to send. It's now the players' responsibility to see this message for what it is and abide.