The Golf Life: Man About GolfMarch 26, 2015

Do You Have That in a Vanity Size?

Trying to find consistency in my clothes game

Fieldwork shows that not all smalls, mediums and larges are made equal.

Fieldwork shows that not all smalls, mediums and larges are made equal.

My closet contains so many golf shirts that when I buy a new one I have trouble jamming it in—is there a tool for this task?—yet I repeatedly favor the same four or five. The reason can't be that I prefer a particular "style," because most of my shirts look almost exactly alike (dark blue, stripes). Recently, I studied my closet scientifically and discovered that the shirts I like best are larger than the ones I like least, even though, according to their labels, they're all the same size.

My preference must be age-and-weight-related; the trend among tour players and other young people has been toward slimmer, tighter, shorter. Those guys will come around as they transition to the Champions Tour, I predict, but even for youthful beanpoles the size on a shirt label is an approximation. I took a tape measure to all my golf shirts, which were made by many manufacturers, and discovered lots of variation: a four-inch difference between longest and shortest, when measured from chin to hem, and a five-inch range in circumference at the armpit. And I found the same thing at the mall, although my analysis there was constrained by my reluctance to spread unpurchased merchandise on the floor.

And then I measured pants. Like many men, I am a reluctant, unimaginative clothes shopper. The last time I tried on a pair of pants before buying it was almost 25 years ago, when I'd just returned from golf school and wanted to study my swing in front of floor-to-ceiling mirrors. As a result, my closet is shifted heavily toward the Levi's-and-Dockers end of the spectrum, and when I find a pair I don't hate I wear it until my wife gives me a look that's the opposite of the look wives give husbands in Cialis commercials. I have a dozen pairs of all-cotton khakis of various vintages, and none of them, it turns out, are exactly the size I thought they were. The inseams are all shorter than stated on the labels, by between half an inch and an inch and a half, and the waists are larger—in all cases by at least two inches, and in one case by almost three. And that's not because I've stretched them by cramming myself into them: I measured brand-new pairs, too.

I spoke with Matthew Thomas, who is the golf-apparel buyer at Zappos, an online store that has an almost cult-like commitment to customer satisfaction (no-questions-asked returns, free shipping both ways, no problem ordering multiple sizes and sending back rejects). Thomas is 33 years old, and his golf handicap is 14. He said (gently) that some pants brands are aimed at a certain demographic—"that larger American gentleman"—and therefore offer a "more robust fit" and even engage in what's known as "vanity sizing." And thank goodness for that. But waistband generosity, according to my fieldwork, isn't limited to old-guy clothes. I measured three pairs of cutting-edge golf pants made of the modern, expensive version of polyester. The inseams on all three were exactly as stated, but the waists were more than two inches oversize. Again, I'm not complaining. But Thomas said that the younger guys in his office tend to wear "nongolf brands" when they play golf, because they prefer a snugger fit.

As men age, sizing becomes at least as much a matter of philosophy as of geometry. My grandfather pulled his pants several inches above his navel and used his actual waist as a ledge to hang them from; I'm in the other camp, since what I think of as my waist is probably technically my hips. Thomas said that fashions in golf lag several years behind fashions in other sports, and that that's because of guys like me. "In a few years," he said, "you're going to see more tapered fits out there, but it still won't be anything crazy, because the general population of golfers is older and more conservative." I asked him which sport comes closest to the other fashion extreme. "Skate," he said.

I paused—oldly, I guess. "Skateboards," he continued. "Not figure skating."