With tennis style, it’s hard to beat the classics

At least for those who watched Novak Djokovic win his seventh Wimbledon title and 21st Grand Slam title on Sunday (surprisingly almost no one), there was one largely unrecognized enjoyment of the experience.

Of course, there were his bulletproof defensive skills and his magical return serve. Add to that the thrill of watching Mr. Djokovic, a 6-foot-2 Serbian, flaunts his Gumby flexibility and muscular physique (achieved through a gluten-free diet and cutting-edge workout regimen) in a three-hour, four-set final. However, for those who care about these things, such as fashion critics, the elegance of Mr. Djokovic’s game benefited from an anachronism going back to the start of the tournament in 1877. That is the strict white dress code still enforced by the legendary All England Club.

Modern players tend to be dissatisfied with white tennis suits, which were originally conceived to curb or hide sweat marks, which were considered indecent among members of society who have long been inseparable from the sport, and which Wimbledon players must wear from the moment they enter to the territory of the court. It is known that Andre Agassi disliked the Wimbledon dress code so much (“Why should I wear white? I don’t want to wear white,” he wrote in his 2009 memoirs) that he refused to play tournaments from 1988 to 1990, defending his favored flashy, bright sportswear before caving, and then won his first and only Wimbledon title in 1992.

Rule creep is common. Some of the resistance can be understood in light of the rigid dress code, which bans non-white items, with the exception of trimming at the seams, cutouts and legs of the shorts, as well as logos wider than a centimeter. Even cream or ivory is considered unacceptable, and orange-soled sneakers got Roger Federer in trouble when he wore them to the 2013 tournament.

Tradition over comfort at Wimbledon. Look at the controversy Rafael Nadal caused when he wore one of his signature white sleeveless tops with a quarter zip in 2005. Gentlemen, in theory, do not show off their weapons. (For present purposes, male athletes are the focus.)

However, what fascinates this observer is the question of why—apart from paid branding opportunities or the questionable claim that took hold in the late 20th century that color reads better on television—an athlete would want to veer away from uniforms that are both practical and flawless to wear, a man with a rich history of influencing style outside of sports.

Even a cursory review of its history in the 20th century shows what a powerful influence tennis has had on fashion. Since the 19th century, the courts have been both a laboratory for innovation and, more often than you might imagine, a mirror of social change. Take the elegance of players like René Lacoste, the 1920s French tennis player nicknamed “The Crocodile”, who replaced the then-familiar woven or woolen tennis shirts with the cooler and more effective long-sleeved cotton polo shirts with the ubiquitous crocodile monogram. Shirts will become the main element of elegant clothes with open collars.

Take also the unfortunate case of Fred Perry. Stylish former racket of the world. 1st player, Mr. Perry won eight Grand Slam singles titles in the 1930s, including three consecutive Wimbledon titles from 1934 to 1936. He founded a brand best known for its white polo shirts with a yellow and black stripe, and the company was perilously close to being founded. in 2020 when the far-right Proud Boys used her polo as a militia uniform and she was forced to stop selling her polo shirts in the US and Canada.

Patterns of tennis elegance appear in every era. At the end of the 20th century there is, for example, a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, such as Budge Patty – one of three Americans to win the French Open and Wimbledon in men’s singles in the same year (1950) – and the sophisticated, famous with his simple style both on and off the court. Further along the arc is Arthur Ashe, the only black man to win singles titles at Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open, and a cunning image manipulator who accentuated his intellectual playing style with cool Black Ivy shorts, tight polo, horn-rimmed glasses or sunglasses. oversized goggles were all specifically designed to counter the racial stereotypes that still plagued the sport in the 70s.

Style in that bad old era tends to get an unfair reputation. And yet, while this is true, we are unlikely to see the elegance of Fred Astaire in the tapered trousers of an athlete like Bill Tilden – the American champion whom the Associated Press once called the greatest player of the first half of the 20th century – that is, no reasons to forget or dismiss the contributions of players who are remembered both for their sex appeal or wild antics and for their tailoring savvy.

We’re talking here about John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, rivals both on center court and in the ’80s fashion arena. In his booty-hugging short shorts and sporty striped t-shirts, Mr. McEnroe became the poster boy for Italian sportswear manufacturer Sergio Tacchini; Bjorn Borg, a sexy, long-haired, headband-wearing Swede, helped bring fame to another Italian label, Fila. And suddenly, these retro looks and these brands – with their toned proportions and overtly sexy celebrations of the athletic male anatomy – look fresh again for both sports fans and those who can’t tell the trump card from the alley.

In other Grand Slams McEnroe and Borg took their Fila-Tacchini look to the limit: lace sleeves, tone-on-tone jackets, pinstripe patterns, a belt with colored pull tabs, terry-bracelets in the national colors, or details that may never have been officially shown at the All England festival. Club.

However, the truth is that nothing extra was actually required. Whether it’s clay, grass, synthetic material, or cracked urban concrete, it’s almost pointless to try to improve white tennis balls.