No neon blue, bright purple, flashy orange and hot pink. No floral shirts and plaid shorts. No leopard print dresses. Only whites. No off whites. No cream. Only whites.
Where Courtesy counts above all else
Where Tradition trumps reputation
Where the Purity of White is always Center Court
Where every day is a day in History…
As the Wimbledon fever sweeps over the World all tennis players, qualifiers and Champions, are reading and re-reading the Wimbledon rule book. The players have to ensure that their tennis attires are almost entirely white from the moment they step onto the court.
The attires are tantamount to not just shirts, shorts, dresses and skirts. They also include tracksuits, sweaters, caps, bandanas, wrist bands, headbands and socks. The list does not end here. The shoes should be completely white, including the soles, with no large brand logos. Even the foxing around the toes must be smooth as per the rules.
The undergarments have not been spared either. Whether they take refuge inside a male player’s shorts or play peek-a-boo with the outside world when a female player executes her serve or come alive as the match progresses owing to the player’s perspiration. They ought to be white and nothing but white.
Medical supports and equipment can take a breather and don any colour other than white, only if absolutely necessary.
The only solid mass of color that is allowed to adorn the whites is a trim around the neckline or cuff or the outside seam. The trim should be within 10mm.
If a player flouts any of these rules, the tournament Umpire will caution them immediately and the player has to abide by his decision to make changes to his or her attire.
Even if it entails a female player replacing her coloured hot pants with men’s white shorts. Now that puts the spotlight on Ms. Kournikova and she ain’t complaining.
Wimbledon Faux Pas over the years
Some got away scot free and the rest received a rap on the knuckles. English style!
Gorgeous Gussie caused a stir
The first woman to ruffle feathers was Gertrude Moran, nicknamed Gorgeous Gussie. She qualified to play in Wimbledon for the first time in 1949.
Most players would be nervous and, in all probability, would have butterflies in their stomach about their first appearance. Not Gussie. She wore an outfit that complied with the rules but scandalized the Wimbledon officials. She was accused by the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club of bringing vulgarity and sin to tennis.
Gussie’s outfit was a short dress that revealed her lace-trimmed knickers underneath. Ted Tinling, her outfit designer and the Official Wimbledon Host for 23 years, also bore the brunt of her “naughty” dress. He was not invited to The Championships for the next 33 years until 1982.
When Anne wore White
1985. Clad in an all-in-one spandex bodysuit, Anne White was slated to play Pam Shriver. Pam Shriver was reportedly distracted by Anne’s white body suit. With the match leveled at one set a piece, it had to be abandoned due to bad light. Wimbledon Umpire Alan Mills took this opportunity to ask Anne White to wear an appropriate outfit for the next day.
The next day she did oblige and stepped on court wearing an acceptable outfit. But lady luck seemed to have absconded, wearing her spandex body suit. Anne White ended up losing the match to Pam Shriver.
In 2007, Tatiana Golovin’s bright red hotpants got her into trouble with the Wimbledon Officials. Six years later in 2013, the Officials experienced déjà vu when Maria Sharapova sported orange hotpants under her white dress.
By Wimbledon 2012 the Officials had probably given up. Serena Williams wore pink hotpants to match her pink bandana. This did not hog the limelight, as she went on to win her 14th Grand Slam and 5th Wimbledon title.
Bethanie Mattek Sands does a Lady Gaga
Fashion statements and disasters happen only on the red carpets of award ceremonies. Says who?
In 2011, Bethanie Mattek Sands put Lady Gaga to shame. Her outlandish jacket left many fashion pundits slack jawed and tongue-tied. Thankfully for the officials, she did not wear it while playing. Bethanie Mattek Sands is known for her unconventional styling that, more often than not, borders on horrendous.
Venus in Beads
With age, Williams’ tennis matured and reached dizzying levels. Unfortunately, her fashion quotient did not seem to follow suit.
In Wimbledon 1997, Venus Williams did her hair in official Wimbledon colours, adorning it in white, green and purple beads.
14 years later, in Wimbledon 2011, she wore an outfit that seemed to capture the status of her mind. Confused.
Sole-stirring Wimbledon for Federer
Roger Federer’s outfit ticked all the boxes in the Wimbledon rule book except one. His Nike shoes had orange soles. He was asked to wear white shoes with white soles for his second round match.
In his earliest exit ever from Wimbledon, Federer lost his Second Round to an inspired Sergei Stakhovsky. The Officials literally pulled the rug from under his feet.
In a pre-match conference of his opening round at Roland Garros this year, when asked about his bold choice of colors for his outfit Federer said,” ‘I love Wimbledon but they’ve gone too far now. So let’s enjoy the colour while we can. Clearly you always want to make a statement in a nice city like here.
I hope people enjoy it and we’ll see how many times I can wear it — I hope seven matches.’
Wimbledon has indeed taken it a bit too far
While it is perfectly kosher to stick to tradition and create an aura that exudes exclusivity, Wimbledon has fallen far behind in the context of modern day Sports. With the recent ban of selfie sticks, it is clear that Wimbledon may not allow any element perceived to “defile” the royalty in the air.
While all other Grand Slams are increasingly looking for ways to bump up accessibility and make Slams spectator friendly, Wimbledon has not. The Australian Open is one of the most vibrant Slams where fans wear their hearts on their sleeve and cheer for tennis. This Slam has utilized technology to the hilt to keep the fans engaged.
Back to the Wimbledon dress code.
Each year, there is some player or the other who is willing to flirt with the boundaries or loopholes the dress code presents. Due to this there has been unnecessary controversy that has, unfortunately, taken the focus off tennis.
Pat Cash who won Wimbledon in 1987, with a checked bandana around his head, has termed the dress code rules as archaic. He even went on to comment that some female players of his time were required to change their bras and shirts because they had some colour on them. Some of them did not have suitable sports bras and hence stepped on to the court without them.
Even leading sports brands are smarting because of the restrictions the White Clothing and Equipment rule imposes. The rules discourage the use of large brand logos on the outfit and the equipment.
In an era where coloured sneakers and apparels satiate demands for athletic fashion trends, the ridiculously stricter rules are not going down well with Sports brands like Nike, Adidas etc. It is in Grand Slams like these that brands get to showcase their latest footwear, apparel and equipment.
Brands have also tried to circumvent the rules by playing around with the fabric, outfit shape and color of the thread. While they have stuck to the whites, they have stealthily inculcated different types of fabric like Nike’s Dri-fit technology and colored stitching.
Anaysts have, time and again, pointed out to such guerilla marketing techniques employed by brands to drive home their point while trying to jump the hoops of the rule book.
Though Wimbledon is the oldest of all Slams, it exists because of Tennis and not the other way around. No Slam or player is greater than the Sport. Wimbledon should take steps to find the right balance between exclusivity and feasibility. The rules must encourage improving the business of tennis and not hindering it.
Sports brands sponsor Grand Slams and make them happen. The players play the Sport and contribute to the Entertainment Quotient. The Wimbledon should keep its tradition as a backdrop against which sponsors create a stage for the players to showcase their oeuvre.
But in this case, the rules have made tradition a spectre that haunts the sport on court and off it.