NEW YORK – Mariah Carey (search) might not have known it at the time, but when she flippantly vowed to start a line of sexy women’s golf clothes recently, she was actually onto something.
With droves of women hitting the links these days — there are 5.76 million female golfers in the U.S., according to the National Golf Foundation (search) — several companies have decided it’s time for fashion to follow them onto the greens.
Department stores are showcasing women’s golf outfits. Clint Eastwood’s Tehama line offers upscale men’s and women’s golf apparel. And companies like SwingChick and Ame & Lulu have launched their own sassy women’s golf fashions.
“There’s a consumer demand for more attractive, more feminine, more flirty golf clothing,” said Elycia Rubin, talent and style director at E! Networks. “There’s an open market for it.”
“It’s on everybody’s radar screen,” said Marlo Scott, 32, who has just begun golfing with other women at work. “There’s an allure to it.”
That allure apparently drove Carey, the pop diva, to venture on a golf outing recently, during which she balked at the course’s dress code.
“I wasn’t about to wear some golf shirt with a collar,” the singer told a New York radio station. “I went out on the links in three-inch high heels and barely anything on and they didn’t mind. I’m now seriously contemplating designing sexy women’s golf clothes.”
Though Carey later said she’d been joking, she summed up the sentiments of many women who have taken to the greens.
“I got hooked on golf a long time ago but couldn’t find anything I liked because it’s all like men’s clothes,” said SwingChick co-founder Mary Allen.
Inspired by surfwear, Allen and her brother designed a line of chic golf clothes — short, fitted collared shirts and micro-fiber “BoardSkorts” with Hawaiian print trim.
Allen said many newcomers to the sport are turning their noses up at the boxy Polo shirts and shapeless, baggy shorts they’re expected to wear on the course.
“There are so many young girls who are starting to play and they don’t want to wear the big, giant shorts,” she said.
The SwingChick Polo is more shapely, but “not obscenely tight," said Allen.
The success of female golfer Annika Sorenstam (search) has also helped widen the sport's appeal beyond the businessmen’s boys’ clubs and the wealthy country club set.
Ame & Lulu recently came out with a line of feminine golf gear — including slim-fit T-shirts, and golf club covers in plaid and toile patterns.
“You see more and more women getting into it,” Rubin said. “There’s going to be a demand for more appealing clothing.”
The golf clothing trend is going in the other direction too, with traditional golfwear influencing street fashion.
“Golf is inspiring off-the-greens looks this summer,” said Dannielle Romano, a style expert with DailyCandy.com. “It’s a subset of the preppy trend. The whole country club sports look is definitely here.”
Romano pointed to the brightly colored grosgrain ribbon belts that are sprucing up jeans and the short skirts with pleats that are fashionable.
“The crisp, green-grass, white clothes look is a reassuring thing for a lot of people,” she said. “It’s classic.”
According to the National Golf Foundation, the number of female golfers increased by 24 percent between 1989 and 1999. In the four years since, the sport’s popularity among women seems to have hit a feverish pitch.
“It’s a very good sport for a lot of people who maybe wouldn’t be able to do another sport,” said Allen. “It’s a great equalizer.”
And as golf continues its upswing, the fashion surrounding it will follow suit.
"I think we’re going to start seeing more golf clothing lines — there’s a demand for it but not a big supply,” Rubin said. “Golf is a huge sport for both men and women, and the apparel is going to evolve with the times."