The LPGA’s new, controversial dress code update went into effect the week of July 16 with the start of the 2017 Marathon Classic near Toledo, Ohio. And this new dress code has drawn all kinds of reaction in and out of golf, ranging from shrugs and acceptance to shouting, screaming and gnashing of teeth.
So what are the actual rules of the new LPGA dress code? The new LPGA dress code bans the following clothing:
- Plunging necklines
- Skirts, skorts or shorts that do not sufficiently cover a player’s “bottom area”, even when bending over
- Racerbacks (backs that have an X look between the shoulders) without a mock or regular collar
- Joggers (capri-style pants with ruffled cuffs)
- Leggings, unless they are worn under a skort or shorts
Most LPGA players dress fairly conservatively, so, for them, the new LPGA dress code doesn’t really have meaning for them. It doesn’t change how they dress, and it doesn’t affect them. The insinuation has been that the new LPGA dress code has been enacted because of players who are getting starts on the Symetra Tour, the LPGA’s developmental tour, that are not regular competitors on the circuit. Many of these players are fresh out of college or have earned invitations to events by building a fan base and following on Instagram — in part because of wearing somewhat skimpy clothing while pulling off golf skill and trick shots. The same Instagram-popular outfits don’t jibe with the expectations for a touring professional golfer.
“I honestly don’t understand the kick back we had from addressing the issues that we had on this tour, because I think we needed it to be honest,” said two-time major winner Stacy Lewis ahead of the Marathon Classic.
However, on the other end of the reaction spectrum, those who oppose the dress code changes consider the new restrictions a form of slut-shaming — a way of telling women they can’t dress how they’d like and that it’s not OK to embrace their sexuality. Consider Paige Spiranac, who developed a following mixing golf skill with skimpy, tight outfits on Instagram. She came out against the new LPGA dress code in a Forbes piece, saying, “these new rules may have been put in place as an exclusionary measure to make sure that only players who echo golf’s more traditional, conservative norms are attracted to and excel at the sport.”
Both arguments seem to be missing something. On one hand, LPGA players are independent contractors who make money through sponsorships and endorsement deals. They have an entitlement to pursue that money building an image that can include dressing however they would like, right? But on the other hand is the argument that the LPGA presents tournaments for the collective benefit of its members. Those tournaments have sponsors, and those sponsors are buying in with a certain set of expectations about the organization and players with which their name and company will be associated. How the players present themselves, including how they dress, is a facet of that expectation.