Wimbledon 2019 is here, which means the grass courts, the Pimm’s cups, the strawberries and cream, the classic Rolex clock. Still, Wimbledon is incomplete without the all-white dress code. No tennis whites, no service-that’s the Wimbledon rule. In other words, it’s another chance for tennis players to tempt the fate of grass stains with their all-white outfits.
When Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal and other tennis stars come to court from July 1 to July 14 at London’s All England Lawn Tennis and Racquet Club, they’ll all be decked out in their finest athletic gear, but minus all colour. However, even though players have tested the limits of The Championships’ dress code for decades, the fashion police are always out in full force at tennis’s oldest and most prestigious event.
So, where did the all-white tradition at The Championships come from? Well, the official dress code for the Wimbledon takes us back to the standards set in the Victorian era, when people would play tennis only at social events. The code was written in the 1800s, when the sights of sweat stains were considered inappropriate at social gatherings. It was decided that white should be worn to minimize visibility, as sweat is more apparent on colourful clothing and from the on ‘tennis whites’ came to being. It was considered the standard attire for well-heeled tennis, a category every player playing Wimbledon falls into. And we all know how stickler for tradition the All England Club is, so when the dress code rule was established, the tradition-loving Wimbledon was loathed to remove it. Not only the attire, even all accessories including caps, headbands, wristband, socks and even shoes are required to adhere to the same all-white rule. Finally, players use medical tapes amidst matches often, which Wimbledon requests are “white if possible” but maybe of a colour “if absolutely necessary”.
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While ‘tennis whites’ have been a part of Wimbledon for well over a century, the tradition has not always been quite popular with players. The most extreme was tennis star Andre Agassi who refused to play The Championships from 1988 to 1990 as the dress code prevented the player form wearing the flashy clothes that he was most comfortable wearing while playing. Even Roger Federer, who is considered the greatest player of all time, was not above the dress code, as he was reprimanded in 2013 for wearing orange –soled white shoes that he was forced to replace in his next match. Yes, that how strict Wimbledon is when it comes to maintaining the all-white tradition! The following year, another tennis legend Martina Navratilova said the tournament officials had “gone too far” when they told her that her blue-striped skirt was not up to code.
But the criticism from some of the greatest players of all time is not enough to get Wimbledon to soften its dress code. Rather, The Championships’ all-whites tradition has only gotten stricter in recent years. In 2014, the Club introduced more rules, more rigid ones. The new rules include the definition that white “does not include off-white or cream” and that the back of the apparel must be “completely white”. While “there should be no solid mass or panel of colouring”, The Championships do allow “a single trim of colour no wider than one centimeter”, that can be around the neckline and the cuffs of sleeves. Lastly, even “undergarments that either are or can be visible during play (including due to perspiration)” are also not allowed.
But no matter how annoying and irritating the tradition is for the players, there is no way Wimbledon participants will stop coming clad in all white for a good long time. The Championships represent the pinnacle of sporty sophistication; it carries with it an extra special aura of prestige. Lastly, Wimbledon has always treated fans worldwide with some of the best matches in the history of tennis.