Flapper dresses, ruffles and red knickers: bending Wimbledon's strict style rules
Corina Gaffey on Wimbledon's sartorial guidelines, style and how you can get tennis ready
Serena Style: Serena Williams celebrates victory following The Ladies Singles Final against Angelique Kerber of Germany on day twelve of Wimbledon 2016 (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
With staunch sartorial guidelines including all white clothing in the official style guide of Wimbledon, it seems there is very little room for sartorial expression. Even accessories and undergarments are also required to abide by a strict set of rules, and must be “completely white except for a single trim of colour no wider than one centimetre”.
In fact, in 2013 it was Rodger Federer’s electric orange-soled Nikes that may have prompted Wimbledon to update its official guide to include accessories and undergarments in its strict list. Even in this year’s competition, the colour ban has been enforced with Venus Williams having to do a mid-match clothing swap because of the strap on the pink bra she was wearing under her white dress was clearly visible. Of course, a bit of undergarment flashing at Wimbledon is nothing new. Gertrude Moran or Gorgeous Gussie as she was affectionally coined, intentionally exposed her ruffled knickers under her skirt in 1949 causing controversy on court. Discontented with the fact she couldn’t wear a coloured outfit ahead of her Wimbledon debut, Gussie chose an outfit that would cause a far greater furore.
Paving the way for others to experiment with their tennis style - Gussie helped shift tennis attire from longer skirts with restricted movement, to the thigh-skimming styles seen on court in the last few decades. In the seventies and eighties, British player Sue Barker experimented with abbreviated hemlines and floral prints with her Wimbledon attire while in the 2000s it reached fever pitch with Anna Kournikova and her range of ever decreasing dresses.
“Gussie wasn’t a revolutionary,” Ted Tinling, the designer of her infamous tennis outfit, once told The Times. “She wore the dress for two reasons. She wanted to look good, and the shorter dresses allowed her to move more freely on the court.”
Echoing Tinling’s sentiments was fashion designer Stella McCartney who has designed a new ladies collection for this year’s Wimbledon. Speaking to CNN, McCartney says that athletes, just like her fashion clientele, want to look good on the public stage too. “Technically you have to tick all the boxes - as a woman you want to feel good about how you look as well - I think that has an impact on how you perform.”
Tennis has long cemented itself as a forum for sartorial statements as much as sporting prowess and it’s the use of fashion as a weapon of confidence that can guide and aid athletes in the competition - if a player feels good, they’ll play well. This was the argument of tennis player Tatiana Golovin in 2007 when she wore red knickers thwarting the predominately white Wimbledon rules. Golovin defended her sartorial choice saying that they provided her with confidence. “They say that red is the colour that proves you are strong, and you are confident, so I’m happy with my knickers.”
But it isn’t just with flashes of colour and underwear that players at Wimbledon can play with the fastidious style rules and radiate confidence. Incorporating fashion elements while bending not breaking the all-white dress code is a favourite among the big hitters of past and present. Selecting a shiny white cat suit in 1985, Anne White’s sartorial choice distracted her opponent Pam Shriver so much that she lost and complained to officials that White shouldn’t be allowed wear her outfit ever again. While in 2008, Maria Sharapova’s choice of a tuxedo style top and shorts designed by Nike might have won her style points but did not serve her well on court as she lost the match to Alla Kurdryavtseva, who was reported as saying “I was pleased to beat her – I didn’t like her outfit.”
Serena and Venus Williams
That same year Serena Williams warmed up for a match at Wimbledon wearing a crisp white trench-coat layered over her tennis outfit. Pleats and frills - currently this seasons favourite fashion detail - feature heavily on tennis attire at Wimbledon but it was in 2010 when Venus Williams took the style to a new level with wore her hula girl meets twenties flapper dress. that it showed you can push the fashion boundaries even more while still toeing the all white fashion rule.
Kristine Kornikova who teaches lessons in Trinity College says that young people in Ireland coming into the sport are favouring colour on the court like herself, but agrees the all-white rule of Wimbledon should be respected. “I think if a player doesn’t want to abide by the style rules of Wimbledon they shouldn’t play Wimbledon.”
Sports manager David Mullens of Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis club also agrees an the all-white rule “I think it’s nice that we have that tradition in place as it’s becoming rarer and rarer. At Fitzwilliam club we enforce an all-white rule but in recent years have loosened up on the colour of shoes as it’s increasingly becoming more difficult as manufacturers aren’t making all white runners as the public want flasher colours.”
At Wimbledon, of course, the power of standing out is crucial in order to clinch those ever lucrative sponsorship deals. Pushing the style boundaries is as much about stirring up the competition as well as attracting attention. Mullens says that players “are looking to differentiate themselves in any way possible these days. They know that having an unique style or look can help them garner more attention which can potentially lead to increased sponsorship opportunities.”
Players like Anna Kournikova, and Bethanie Mattek-Sands haven’t become the world’s highest-earning tennis player thanks only to their on-court skill, it is also their fashion-forward tennis ensembles that guaranteed the sponsorship deals.
Mullens says, “In an age where there only appears to be one style of tennis being played at the highest levels and very few players dominating the sport; if players want to make the most of their short careers they need to stand out in some unique way. Some of them can do this through fashion.”
Here are ten tennis-inspired buys to look the part on and off court.
1. Stan Smiths runners, €80, Office
2. White crochet dress, €69, Other Stories
3. Stripe jacket, €180, Tory Sport, Netaporter
4. Tennis Knit, €45, Sweaty Betty
5. Trousers, €30, V by Very, Littlewoods
6. Dress, €495, Alexa Chung, Brown Thomas
7. Polo, €120, Tory Sport, Netaporter
8. Dress, €2010, Alaia
9. Sweater, €120, ReDone
10. T-shirt, €35, Mango