Style / July 2017

A History of Tennis Style

Athletes at Wimbledon have long since championed a sporty aesthetic and professional respect for the rules. But, as is often the case, it’s the rulebreakers that provide the real inspiration.

René Lacoste, one of France's 'Four Musketeers' who won the Davis Cup in 1932 at Wimbledon, proudly wearing his embroidered crocodile motif. Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images.

Rules of dress have long been upheld by schools, workplaces, establishments and even sporting events like Ascot; it is the mark of an institution that demands respect and inspires a sense of occasion. In 1890, Wimbledon stipulated that players must wear all white, and over a century later the rules have not only remained steadfast, but evolved to counteract rebellious players’ fluid interpretations. Today, the official guidelines state that off-white and cream are unacceptable, a single trim of colour around necklines and cuffs must be no wider than 10mm and large logos are deemed inappropriate. Back in the late 1800s though, both the sport and the colour white had already come to symbolise social status; the rich and fabulous never needed to get their hands – or their clothes – dirty, and had time on their hands to play at leisure. Conveniently, the colour doesn’t absorb heat and allows perspiration to go unnoticed, making it a natural choice for the sartorial sportsman.

Traditionally, gentlemen in the early 20th century would grace the court in wide-legged double-pleated trousers with generous turn-ups that fell elegantly over slim, white plimsolls. Starched shirts were long-sleeved, dressy and buttoned to the neck. Granted, the men had little to complain about when one considers that their female contemporaries played in petticoats, corsets and floor-length skirts; but it can’t have made the game any easier.

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Anna Prendergast

Anna is a freelance writer and former staffer at The Rake. She is passionate about travel, well made clothes and homemade chocolate chip cookies.