Designing Women

THE FASION INDUSTRY is suddenly paying attention to women golfers, making clothing that not only can be worn on the links, but looks stylish, too.

There are many reasons why fewer women than men play golf. One of them has to be that few self-respecting women want to go out in public wearing the kind of clothes golfers traditionally prefer.

But a recent fashion show sponsored by Nordstrom, the Executive Women's Golf League and Self magazine presented many examples of why women may soon find golf more attractive.

The show, a benefit for Washington Women in Need, drew 290 people to a downtown Bellevue hotel on a sunny Saturday and was proof that women golfers will no longer be forced to dress like "little men."

"In the past, there just weren't that many items for women to chose from," said Colleen Crowley, the executive director of Washington Women in Need. "And the things that were for sale just didn't look good. They usually looked like they were designed for men."

But the Bellevue show presented items from 11 manufacturers made specifically with women in mind.

"I thought the clothes looked terrific," Crowley said. "Not only did they look good, but they looked like you could play golf in them."

Betty Peltzer, who runs her own Eastside insurance agency, went right out after the show and purchased several items.

"I thought the clothes were wonderful," she said. "They were stylish, tailored and sophisticated."

The fashion industry's sudden increase in interest in women golfers is easy to explain: the women's market is growing quickly. For example, the three-year-old Executive Women's Golf League had 3,000 members in the U.S. in 1994. It projects a membership of 8,000, in 75 chapters, in 1995. The local chapter has 104 members.

Most of the clothes that appeared on the runway at the Bellevue show were for female golfers. But even in the small sampling of men's styles shown, the influence of a higher fashion consciousness was apparent. There was nothing even slightly resembling the leisure suit-inspired look so popular with generations of male players - no white belts or cardboard collars or horse blanket-plaids.

While yesterday's golf attire looked as out of place away from the links as a slab of bacon at a vegetarian buffet, the new lines featured at the show would be equally suitable on the first tee or in the mall at a favorite resort.

Even women who don't play or like golf will find something appealing.

There were items in colors traditionalists crave - navy, white, yellow and tan - but "anything boring and stodgy is out," said Lynnette Harrison, Self's merchandising manager and the narrator at the Bellevue show.

One of the most striking aspects of the show was the eye-catching use of colors like papaya, ecru, slate, putty, oatmeal, emerald, mango, mandarin, sherbert and taupe.

There was Ixspa's silk print jacket with raspberry shirt and shorts; Eastbrook's floral vest (with matching visor) over a white shirt and royal blue shorts; Bogner's coral v-neck sweater, striped shirt and khaki shorts; Eastbrook's polka dot jacket and shorts, which were shown with a navy vest over a white and navy shirt; and Calloway Golf's argyle sweater, sage sleeveless blouse and sage sarong shorts.

Knee socks were a common accessory for many of the outfits that included shorts and skirts.

Many of the fabrics used to make the clothes also reflect new ways of thinking about golf attire. There were silk jackets, linen shirts and shorts, and chambray jackets and shorts. And there were pants and shorts made of a new wrinkle-free materials.

Function also was a key consideration in the design of the clothes, which means golfers won't have to trade looks for comfort and practicality.

Most of the shorts and pants have elastic in the waistbands. Shirts, sweaters and jackets are cut fuller, and the tails of the shirts are made a little longer to allow for the movement involved in swinging a club.

Harrison assured audience members who must conform to country club dress codes that all items shown would pass muster - all of the shirts had collars and all of the shorts had inseams at least 17 inches long.

No matter how one plays, it has never been easier to look good on the course.

Note: All of the brands mentioned in this article can be found at area Nordstrom stores. Some individual items may be out of stock, but the store may be able to place an order from the manufacturer.