To call the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club a stickler for tradition would be an understatement. Till 2002, players were required to curtsey to the Royal Box on the Centre Court. The Duke of Kent, who is also the club’s president, discontinued the ritual, deeming it anachronistic.
The pristine white outfits are a different story altogether. The strict rules (failing which a player can be disqualified) make the Wimbledon whiter than this year’s Oscars.
The archaic custom is rooted in the Victorian era when tennis was a sport for the cultured, to be played at social gatherings. Now, sport equals sweat equals inappropriate patches on coloured clothing. Enter the ‘tennis whites’.
Cut to 2014, when a 10-part decree was introduced in the rulebook which states that “white does not include off-white or cream” and allows only “a single trim of colour no wider than one centimetre.” The rule now covers caps, headbands, bandanas, wristbands, shoes and even “any undergarments that either are or can be visible during play (including due to perspiration).”
Players have to send sample of their clothing to the club for approval at least 90 days in advance.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands, the resident Lady Gaga of tennis expectedly has had trouble following the code. The colourful American – what with the dyed hair, tattooed arm and black warpaint – said that the “rules have become ridiculously strict.”
“I mean, you can’t even wear off white or cream. I was going to joke about that. I was like, man, if you wash your whites too many times, they will be illegal. Better be washing it in cold water.”
But Mattek-Sands, who “didn’t even get married in white”, isn’t one to give up easy.
Eugenie Bouchard, the 2014 finalist, was cautioned for wearing a black bra.
There are strict all white rules for our outfits but then the towels are the craziest colours... Oh @wimbledon 😂😂😂— Genie Bouchard (@geniebouchard) 27 June 2016
There’s no leeway for tennis royalties either. Seven-time champion Roger Federer was banned from wearing orange-soled shoes in 2014.
“I just find it quite extreme to what extent it’s gotten to white. We’re talking white like it was in the ‘50s,” said Federer last year. “The thing is, when I was watching on TV, I still have the pictures in my mind where Edberg and Becker and all those guys, they had more colour.”
The colourful yesteryears were courtesy of a relaxation in rules in 1963, when the players were asked to wear ‘predominantly in white’ clothing.
Predominantly, however, didn’t cut it for the rebel that was Andre Agassi, who famously skipped Wimbledon from 1988 to 1990 because his signature denim shorts weren’t allowed. The American ultimately came around and won the tournament in 1992.
One would think that the All England Club would further relax the rules, right? Nope. In 1995, the rule was updated (read: tightened) to allow “almost entirely white” clothes.
And two years back, the “predominantly” and “almost entirely” were quantified as 1 centimetre.
For both designers and players alike, the 1cm coloured strip is room enough for experimentation. It might be all-white, but over the years Wimbledon has seen more than just the regular collars, pleats and classic cuts. There have been designs aplenty – both good (Federer’s gold man bag and military style jacket from 2009) and bad (this year’s disastrous ‘baby-doll’ kit.)
Thankfully, save for Anne White’s cat-suit, there has been no true ‘ugly’ fashion moment at Wimbledon.
Same can’t be said for the French Open though. Zebra tops, anyone?