With the tennis style, it is difficult to pass the classics


For at least some watching Novak Djokovic win his seventh Wimbledon title and 21st Grand Slam crown on Sunday (surprising almost no one), there was a largely unsung pleasure in the experience.

Of course, there were his bulletproof defensive skills and magical return of serve. Add to that the eye-popping thrill of watching Mr. Djokovic, a 6-foot-2 Serbian, display his Gumby-like flexibility and shredded physique (achieved on a gluten-free diet and state-of-the-art workout regimen ) in a three-hour, four-set final. Yet for those who care about such things – fashion critics, for example – the elegance of Mr. Djokovic’s game has benefited from an anachronism dating back to the start of the tournament in 1877. Namely the strict white dress code still enforced by the legendary All England Club. .

Modern players tend to bristle at tennis whites that were originally designed to curb or conceal the signs of sweating – considered unseemly among the types of society that have long locked down the sport – and must be worn by Wimbledon players from the moment they enter the court. Andre Agassi was famous for his detestation of the Wimbledon dress code (“Why do I have to wear white? I don’t want to wear white”, he wrote in his 2009 memoir) that he refused to participate in the 1988 to 1990, holding on to his favorite loud and colorful sportswear until he finally gave in in 1992, when he won his first Wimbledon title.

Period creep is common. Some backsliding is understandable in light of a rigid dress code that prohibits non-white elements except in trim on outseams, necklines and legs of shorts, as well as logos larger than one centimeter. Even cream or ivory are considered beyond pale, and orange-soled trainers caused problems for Roger Federer when he wore a pair to the 2013 tournament.

Tradition trumps convenience at Wimbledon. Look at the controversy that greeted Rafael Nadal when he wore one of his sleeveless white zipper tops in 2005. Gentlemen, the thought goes, don’t show your guns. (For current purposes, male athletes are my focus.

Yet what fascinates this observer is the question of why – aside from paid branding opportunities or a dubious assertion that took hold in the late 20th century that color reads best on television. – an athlete would want to depart from a uniform that is both practical and foolproof, with a rich history of influencing style outside of sport.

Even a cursory examination of its history in the 20th century shows what a powerful effect tennis has had on fashion. Since the 19th century, the courts have been both a laboratory of innovation and, more often than one might imagine, a mirror of social evolution. Take the elegance of players like René Lacoste, the 1920s French tennis player nicknamed the Crocodile, who replaced the woven or woolen tennis blanks that were then customary with short-sleeved, paneled cotton polo shirts. cooler and more effective longs with the ubiquitous crocodile monogram. Shirts would become a staple of jump-collar preppy clothing.

Consider also the unfortunate case of Fred Perry. A stylish former player ranked No. 1 in the world, Mr. Perry won 10 major titles in the 1930s, including eight Grand Slams, and he won three consecutive victories at Wimbledon from 1934 to 1936. He then founded a brand more known for white polo shirts trimmed with a yellow and black stripe, and the company nearly went under in 2020 when its polo shirts were co-opted as a militia uniform by the far-right Proud Boys and it was forced to retire the sales of its polo shirts in the United States and Canada.

Models of tennis elegance appear in all eras. At the end of the 20th century, there is, for example, a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame like Budge Patty – one of only three Americans to have won the French singles championships and Wimbledon in the same year. (1950) – and a sophisticate renowned for his easy-to-carve style both on and off the pitch. Further down the arc is Arthur Ashe, the only black man to win the singles titles at Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open, and a savvy image manipulator who underscored his cerebral game style with cool Black Ivy – tailored shorts, fitted polo shirts, horn-rimmed glasses or oversized sunglasses – intentionally designed to counter the racial stereotypes that still plagued the sport in the 70s.

The style of that bad old era tends to have unfair rapping. And yet, if it is true that we are unlikely to see the elegance in Fred Astaire turf pants of an athlete like Bill Tilden – an American champion whom the Associated Press once voted the greatest player of the first half of the 20th century – which is no reason to overlook or dismiss the contributions of players as known for their sex appeal or wild antics as they are for their sartorial acumen.

We’re talking about John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg here, rivals both on center court and in the fashion arena of the 80s. poster of Italian sportswear manufacturer Sergio Tacchini; Bjorn Borg, the sexy long-haired Swede wearing a headband, helped put another Italian heritage brand, Fila, on the map. And suddenly these retro looks and brands – with their taut proportions and overtly sexy celebration of athletic male anatomy – look fresh again for both sports fans and those unfamiliar with an ace. from an alley.

At other Grand Slam events, Messrs. Both McEnroe and Borg have taken their Fila-Tacchini look to the extreme, with striped sleeves, tonal jackets, pinstripe patterns, colored tab belts, terrycloth wristbands in national colors or details that may never have passed the official gathering at the All England Club.

The truth is, however, that nothing additive was really needed. Whether on clay, grass, synthetic or cracked urban concrete, trying to improve tennis blanks is largely pointless.


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