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Jimmy Demaret, Godfather Of The Go-To-Hell Look

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Yesterday on my fraternal site Ivy-Style.com, a reader named “Niko” left a long comment on one of my better-known sartorial history articles, a story entitled “Damned Dapper” that ran in The Rake in 2009.

The story explores the origins of the WASPy penchant for crazy colored clothes, such as bright pants worn with otherwise correct and conservative items. In a famous essay from the ’70s, Tom Wolfe used to term “go to hell” when describing these outlandish colors such as canary yellow, kelly green or bright raspberry.

Palm Beach and the country clubs of the Northeast were certainly incubators, and that’s where a lot of golf is played. But Niko says one golfer in particular exerted a powerful influence. Jimmy Demaret is pictured above in a shot by LIFE Magazine with so much garish clothing we’re filing this one under both Birdies and Bogeys.

Writes Niko:

Demaret had his colorful pants created in the late 1930s, not 1950 as stated above. First golfer ever to wear fun-colored pants. The go-to-hell prep kids later got their original idea from golf clubs and their humorously decorated/colored pants, which by the mid-1960ss was a common sight (and something Jimmy had stared decades before).

He then goes on to share these two bio passages:

When he joined the pro tour in 1927, all golfers wore the same style of clothing: brown or gray slacks, brown or black shoes, a white dress shirt, a tie, and sometimes a fedora. The clothing was not only conservative in color and cut, but the materials tended to be heavy, and, in hot-weather locker rooms, ‘kind of stank,’ said Jimmy.

So one day in the late 1930s,while in New York City, Demaret visited a shop in the garment district where movie stars had their clothes made. There he saw bolts of lightweight materials in a kaleidoscope of bright colors that caught his eye. As Demaret remembered, he had acquired his taste for colors from his father, a house painter who, in the days before paints were mixed by machine, would mix by hand and test shades on the walls of his home. Jimmy asked if he could get some golf shirts and slacks made of such goods. Told the stuff was for ladies’ garments, Jimmy said he didn’t care: he wanted to play golf in them.

His request was fulfilled, and a sartorial revolution in golf got under way. Not only did golfers begin to wear more lively looking clothing, but the clothes were lighter, and the shirts in particular made swinging a club easier.

 

And:

But not everybody was Ben Hogan, and the subdued palate of white, grey, and black that soon blanketed courses turned golf attire into a staid uniform.

Bucking the plain Shane bandwagon was Texan Jimmy Demaret. Nicknamed “The Wardrobe,” Demaret was a golf fashion trailblazer, one of the first players to break away from convention and express his individuality with outlandishly loud getups. He often looked like a chameleon who just walked through a rainbow.

Over the course of a tournament he’d sport a vivacious spectrum that would rival Joseph’s Technicolor dreamcoat— aqua, emerald, flaming scarlet, gold, lavender, name a color and he wore it. Decked out from head-to-toe, Demaret would go so far as to have his saddle shoes custom made so that they matched his slacks.

More than a fashion plate, Demaret was one of the top golfers of his era winning the Masters on three occasions (1940, 1947, 1950), and he stayed involved in the game long after his playing career as a television commentator.

His garish penchant for plaid, polka dotted, and checked sports jackets would persist well into the ‘80s inspiring the country-club centerfold look Rodney Dangerfield caricatured in “Caddyshack.”

A comic in his own right, Demaret should really get more respect for coming up with one of the most astute observations about the game he played: “Golf and sex are about the only things you can enjoy without being good at them.”

Crazy colors are fine, just be sure not to over-coordinate. I was at the range this weekend in a hot pink polo shirt. But I didn’t have matching shoelaces.

One Response to “Jimmy Demaret, Godfather Of The Go-To-Hell Look”

  1. David Wilder Says:

    Great article. Any idea where this photo was taken?

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