Home / Journal / History of plus fours

History of plus fours

18 May 2017

They are one of golf’s most famous fashions – but unlike other sartorial fairway choices, they’ve not really made it to the high street. We look at their history and the current iterations.

History of plus fours
Payne Stewart (left) with his trademark plus fours. Rebecca Naden/PA Archive

As discussed in these very pages, golf has inspired a number of fashion items that have taken hold with non-golfers and hit the high streets of the country. But not all. In fact, there’s one item of clothing that will forever be associated with golf that has yet to catch on – but there’s still time. We give you the plus fours…

Where did they come from?
Traditional knee pants – also called knickers or knickerbockers – were often worn in the 19th Century. They were baggy garments that fastened tight around the knee area and were popular among some soldiers during the First World War.

Some bright spark had the idea of making these pants a little longer - adding 4 inches to their length, hence the name. Instead of fastening around the knee, the plus four fastened just below. This extra length gave the wearers much more freedom of movement.

While versions had been around since the 1860s, it wasn’t until the 1920s that they took off, especially on golf courses. Edward, Prince of Wales introduced them to our stateside cousins on a diplomatic trip in 1924.

The full look usually combined the plus fours with classic Argyle print socks and a sweater, establishing the golfing uniform that would stick around for decades and is still recognisable today – if not as often worn.

A version called the plus twos were also developed that used less material and were therefore less baggy – looking more like modern trousers but with a finish at the knee.

Where did they go?
In the mid-1930s, they started to fall out of favour thanks to the introduction of the walking shorts, which were seen as a more practical option.

But they did have a small resurgence in popularity through the middle of the 20th Century, with some cyclists adopting them. And while they fell out of fashion on the golfing greens, they did make a bit of a return in the 80s thanks to Payne Stewart who wore them on the PGA Tour.
Ian Poulter brings the look back in 2004. Andrew Milligan/PA Archive
Ian Poulter brings the look back in 2004. Andrew Milligan/PA Archive

Since then, few golfers have opted to wear them. They are occasionally seen, with Ian Poulter donning a tartan pair of plus twos in 2004 and Rickie Fowler paying homage to Payne Stewart with some plus fours in 2015.

But with the advent of specialist golfing trousers, plus fours were seen as dated.

Though every now and then they’ll pop up again in popular culture.

Outkast’s André Benjamin was a big fan of the look and even designed his own plus fours, which he included in his Benjamin Bixby clothing line in 2008. The fashion line was said to be inspired by Ivy League athletes of the 1930s.

And one of the most famous plus four wearers of all time is Tintin, who wore animated versions of plus fours in the Spielberg film, The Adventures of Tintin, in 2011.