With celebrity fans and fashion designers in on the action, we find out why the “it” crowd are all at the bowling alley
Bowling – yes, throwing a ball in the hope it hits those ten pins at the end of a lane – is not just fun, it’s downright cool, thanks to some serious fashion pedigree, celebrity fans and the kind of aesthetic that works with the trends we love in 2016, not to mention the ability to look really great on Instagram. Here are five reasons to pick up your bag, shirt and shoes, and head to the alley right now.
The clothes are awesome
This, really, is the crux of everything for the fashion crowd – if it doesn’t look right, they’re not interested. Luckily, bowling has a look that they can get behind, and do. The bowling shirt is something of a cult favourite on the vintage scene. Kevin Soar, buyer at renowned London vintage store Beyond Retro – where all things bowling-related sell well – says it’s the styles with “interesting or elaborate embroidery on the back; a 50s black bowling shirt from a team with a cool name like 'The Flaming Pins’ that get snapped up instantly.”
The possibility of personalizing your look is tantalizing – if you’re lucky enough to find a shirt with your own name embroidered on the chest, you’ve hit the jackpot. “Pretty much all vintage bowling shirts have a name,” says Soar. “We all know how much people love a mug with their name on it – this is the clothing equivalent.” Add bowling shoes, varsity jackets and retro details ranging from side-ponytails to silk scarves around the neck, and bowling has the kind of look that is the style equivalent of hitting a strike.
“It’s not just celebrities who can get in
on the fun. With Instagram, anyone can have a
photo shoot at the alley – it’s Insta-ready!“
It’s in all the best movies
Number one here is, of course, the Coen Brothers' The Big Lebowski, a film that turns the bowling alley into a hangout. Jeff Bridges as a stoner in a hoodie might not sound on paper like the best style reference, but the film’s cult appeal, and that green nail varnish, means it has cult cool points. Then there’s King Pin, an early Farrelly Brothers production that sees Woody Harrelson in hillbilly threads, and Vanessa Angel in several skimpy, NSFW bowling outfits.
Other notable movies include Lars and the Real Girl, with Ryan Gosling and actress Kelli Garner, which builds on the geeky-cool aesthetic of bowling, and Napoleon Dynamite, with characters at the alley wearing Lacoste polo shirts and ironic 70s glasses. A personal favourite comes a bit earlier – Grease 2, released in 1982, has a number in a bowling alley, handily entitled “Let's Bowl,” which features some pretty impressive strikes – one taken in a prototype of those shiny American Apparel disco pants – and Michelle Pfeiffer in a bowling shirt.
It fits into the whole Americana thing that everyone is into right now
Burgers, Cadillacs, baseball and Coca-Cola, all things 50s American have that cast-iron cool at the moment – if it could be the subject of a pop art painting, it's in. Bowling, a classic Saturday night across all 50 states, ticks that box, and that means it hits the sweet spot of the zeitgeist, feeding an appetite for iconic, classic Americana. Jeni Fine, head of marketing at Vogue-approved All Star Lanes who have four bowling alleys across the UK, believes this aesthetic is part of the chain’s success. “Bowling became mainstream in the 50s, and All Star Lanes is our unique interpretation of that era, mixed with touches of Americana through the ages,” she says. “We’re adventures in American fiction, celebrating a fabricated world of American fantasy, inspired by road movies, pop art, burlesque and technicolour. It’s glamour, great food and cocktails.” Sounds like a great combination to us.
The cool crowd does it
Bowling might be mainstream, but it’s also got some pretty A-list fans. Amy Winehouse and Joe Strummer are icons of the bowling shirt look and – here’s some more cool points – mods used to steal bowling shoes in the 60s to wear them for dancing. Glamour at the lanes is definitely a possibility these days, if the likes of Pixie Geldof go casual in onesies, and Cindy Crawford bowls in a T-shirt and jeans. Rihanna, never one for dressing down, is a fan of bowling, and so are the Kardashians. Of course, it’s not just celebrities who can get in on the fun. With Instagram, anyone can have a photo shoot at the alley – it’s Insta-ready. Fine says the look is an inherent part of that: “Our guests like the shoes, in particular,” she says. “They are our most Instagrammed All Star moment.”
High fashion loves it.
Designers can always get into something that has a bona fide aesthetic of its own, and so it is with bowling. Expensive versions of the bowling bag are now a permanent part of brands’ accessories ranges, and loved by the well-heeled everywhere, even if they have never stepped inside a bowling alley. The pastime has also lent its look to many a catwalk show, with embroidered shirts worn by celebrities on the front row and even models bowling with bottles of perfume. While bowling aficionados will point out that all this might get in the way of any strike, they would also have to admit it looks like a whole lot of fun.