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On the Fore! Front : Everyone from Gucci to Skins Game in Irvine is offering tee-rific golf-inspired wear. Some labels are creating gear with the traditional, mainstream look, while others are going with the kitschy, campy '50s and '60s styles.


From the fairways to the runways, fashion is hollering a resounding, "Fore!" Everyone from Gucci to Stussy is hitting the greens and the streets in golf-inspired gear, on a par with the sport's rising popularity among enthusiasts of all ages.

Companies such as the Skins Game in Irvine are targeting the twentysomething set with youthful, mainstream renditions of today's golf wear. But it's the progressive street-wear designers who are swinging it best with their capricious versions based on the campy golf fashions of the '50s and '60s.

"Golf embodies kitsch Americana," says designer Joel Fitzpatrick, 26, of Pleasure Swell in Los Angeles.

For summer and fall, the label offers young men and women Scotchguard pants in blues and greens, argyle tops in pink and dresses and men's shirts cut from a magenta plaid spotted with Dalmatians.

It's a dog's life, too, for Hush Puppies, those utterly sensible shoes that have become required footwear among fashionettes. At the Swell Store in Los Angeles, Fitzpatrick sells the latest Technicolor pairs. He will soon offer a golf shoe and spikeless street version by Hush Puppies in limited-edition brights.

"I think golfers today take themselves too seriously. They want to forget plaid pants ever existed and live in . . . beige ," says Fitzpatrick, recalling his Irish grandfather's penchant for shamrocks.

By the same token, the retro rehashing in the fashion world, including competitors in Pleasure Swell's market, tends to focus on a restrained, drab palette. Fitzpatrick and a handful of other designers, however, are setting themselves apart with pieces that are as much about old-school golf as they are about the culture it came from--one filled with leisure time, wet bars, cigars and tackiness, Fitzpatrick says.

"Fashion is always about fantasy," he says. "I'm finding more of my friends getting into golf for the escape. But for most people, it's a thin thread that connects the physical aspect of golf with the look. There's always a certain sense of our state of mind by the way we dress. Loose shapes and wovens can be relaxing. The silly prints speak for themselves. It's something I can really relate to--not having enough leisure time."

Dawls' designer Ryan Rush says he "always thought of it as a sport for old guys." Now he finds his friends rushing the links.

Players younger than 30 make up the largest segment of beginners, according to the National Golf Foundation in Jupiter, Fla. Of the 1.6 million new duffers surveyed in 1994, those 18 to 29 lead the demographic category. The second-largest group of beginners are 12 to 17; thirtysomethings rank third.

The golf apparel business will take in $800 million from department stores, specialty stores and pro shops this year and is expected to rise to $1 billion by the end of this decade, according to Women's Wear Daily.

Dawls, the Maywood label that includes a junior division, offers a wardrobe of woven knit tops and A-line skirts, crew sweaters, chino pants and shorts and visors. Of note is a Dawls' tee screened with a vintage illustration of a female golfer.

Rush said he believes revived interest--especially among young people who seem more at home in a mosh pit than a sand bunker--is purely reactionary.

It's not like bowling, says the 24-year-old designer in reference to that other sport that's influencing street wear again.

"Golf sounds sophisticated, that you're no longer a kid," Rush says. "After grunge, people want to be more sophisticated."

Josh Speyer, 24, agrees. As owner of the Costa Mesa alternative-wear boutique Stateside, Speyer views the trend as a definite reaction to grunge. Besides Pleasure Swell and Dawls, the shop offers local labels such as Truck (which offers plaid breakers and visors) and Twenty-Four Seven (checkered pedal pushers, solid capris, polos and woven knits).

Stateside also does formidable business with vintage polo shirts, seersucker blazers and novelty patterned pants ($7 to $10). Speyers says he can't keep vintage Arnold Palmer shirts in stock.

Golf-inspired street fashion, he says, falls into the larger turn to anything preppy and mod.

"When kids were into grunge, they could be labeled and stereotyped too easily," Speyers says. "This trend is confusing, even subversive, because people don't know if you're really preppy or just dressing like it. Wouldn't it be hot to walk into class and look like your teacher but not meet any of his expectations that you're like him?"

How about your teacher's wing tips? The Shoe Zoo in San Clemente and Costa Mesa carries bulbous toe styles in pastels and red by Muro ($106). Except for the missing spikes, they look perfect for the greens.

Adds Speyer, gushing in a moment of youthful conspiracy: "There's something insidious [about] non-conformists wearing the clothes of conformists. You see a guy with a shaved head, some tattoos maybe, wearing preppy clothes, and you know there's something not right."

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