The Evils of Denim

In the bottom drawer of my bedside table is a photo of me with my host, and two other long-forgotten fellow golfers, at a two-day event at a private club. The photo is dated 1984. Aside from looking ridiculously young, I also look ridiculous. I’m wearing a white crested golf shirt, pink seersucker shorts, and blue knee socks. How this ensemble ever was considered acceptable, much less fashionable, is beyond my comprehension. But if you, dear reader(s), happen to be under age 50, I can assure you it was.

Believe it or not, in many private golf clubs in Canada until, say, the mid 1980’s, knee socks were mandatory for men wearing shorts. Even harder to understand, I know some guys who were upset when their clubs relaxed the rules and began to allow sport socks or ankle socks. Well, two guys, actually… both of whom are younger than me. (But, to be honest, I suspect these chappies like to dress up as Field Marshal Montgomery when their wives aren’t home. Maybe they Facetime and bark orders at each other.)

All of which brings me to the point of this week’s essay: dress codes at golf clubs. Unless we’re talking about a gravel pit with holes north of the permafrost, just about every public and private club today has a minimum standard of acceptable clothing. Shirts with collars for men, no tank tops or yoga pants for women. Okay, we can live with that.

At private clubs, of course, add this: no denim.

Even the mere mention of the word “denim” within the boundaries of Snootwood Country Club is liable to be met with foaming at the mouth, or a cane raised in a threatening manner. Perhaps it’s based on a lingering anti-French attitude – “denim” is a variation of “de Nîmes”, a lovely old town in the south of France where they have a nice bullring, and many people wearing jeans. But even by those members who wear jeans every day when they’re not hobnobbing at the club, at Snootwoods everywhere, denim is seen as the devil’s fabric.

It can be a pretty divisive issue, with generally older members being unequivocally against wearing denim, which they see as an erosion not only of standards, but also of respect for the club and its traditions. Younger members, generally under 40, don’t care about the past. Many of them wear jeans to work, or put them on as soon as they come home, and don’t want to have to dress up to go to a place where they’ve already paid to join (and in some cases, have to use up a minimum charge in the dining room). Many of these young people have kids — toddlers to teens — who also wear jeans, and who also don’t want to have to change just to satisfy the wishes of older people they don’t know.

A real anomaly has occurred now with the growing popularity of khaki. Many players on the PGA Tour are wearing khaki slacks, which look a lot like denim, come in the same colours as denim, and don’t have a crease like denim. They’re almost identical, from a short distance. For many young club members, it seems ridiculous that they can wear blue khaki pants into the club, but not blue jeans made of denim. I don’t know of any private clubs outlawing khakis, but many still cling to the denim ban.

One club I know recently sent out a reminder to all members that denim continues to be verboten, in any colour. Apparently, some members have been boldly striding onto the property and sliding under dining tables, besported in black, white, even fuchsia denim, thereby causing much stress amongst the staff, who are charged with enforcing the policy.

But to tie this topic back to my intro, and to sum up my point: times change. Just as knee socks are considered pathetically funny now (except in Bermuda), I suspect the ban on denim will quietly pass away like Bernard Montgomery did. Hopefully by that time, the fashion fads of ripped knees, and glittering studs, and fading at the knees and butt, will have given over to a nice, almost tailored look, so that those members who value crispness in their couture, will not be compromised or challenged not to look.

And yea, families will once again be seen dining together in joyful unison at their clubs, and peace shall reign upon the earth.

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