The origins of golf are murky, but appears to have been invented prior to the 14th century in Holland. The more modern 18-hole game originated in Scotland, and spread internationally during the 19th century. Due to its British origins, knickers with high socks combined with a tweed jacket was popular golf attire as the game came to America.
In a 1897 Harper's magazine article on golf, the men were all pictured in long sleeved button-ups, newsboy caps and pants tucked into knee-high boots. A 1901 Canadian magazine article showed men wearing long, light-colored trousers and jackets.
Knickers slowly gave way to slacks has the prominent attire for golfers. Though common in the first half of the 20th century, by the 1950s ties and dress shirts were replaced by the lightweight polo shirts that remain common on courses today. In addition, the 1950s gave golf personality as golf trousers and shirts became increasingly colorful.
In the early 1900s, women golfers wore sweaters and pleated skirts. After 1921, according to Lead Apparel's Justin Morris, some were pictured in knickers, though many clubs would have likely not allowed such attire. Eventually, shorts and slacks became common in the women's game as well.
In 1948, Henry Cotton won his third British Open and subsequently tried to attract apparel endorsements by offering to change his name to Henry Nylon, Henry Banlon, Henry Orlon, Henry Rayon, Henry Dacron, Henri Piquet, Harry Polyester, Hari Madras, Enrico Viyella, Enrique Vicuna or Hank Doubleknit. He didn't receive any offers. Modern apparel sponsorships wouldn't become a huge part of the professional game until the 1990s.
Transition into the 21st Century
Men's golf clothing has now evolved to include the above-the-knee Bermuda shorts of the 1980s and 1990s. Generally, today's municipal courses don't have dress codes but many private courses continue to require golfers to wear a collared shirt and Dockers-style shorts or pants, representing golf's upper class history.