Fortunately, the ’20s and ’30s welcomed a more relaxed approach, as well as two of
the most influential tennis players in Wimbledon history. Fred Perry and René Lacoste may have never battled it out
on the court, but a rivalry of sorts blossomed from the respective sportswear brands that followed their
professional success. In a maverick move, René Lacoste reportedly cut the sleeves off his shirt before a match to
allow for better movement, explaining that “Above all, elegance requires clothes that are adapted to the situation
or circumstances”, long-sleeved button-downs hardly fitting the bill. His nickname, ‘the Crocodile’, made for a
snappy trademark, and in 1933 the cotton piqué Lacoste polo shirt was born.
Fred Perry is credited with inventing the sweatband, after wrapping lengths of gauze
around his wrist and later monetising the idea, and this entrepreneurial spirit translated into the production of
his own line of polo shirts. Today, the laurel wreath logo on the chest is instantly recognisable – but Perry’s
original design was a smoking pipe. Perry’s business partner Tibby Wegner talked him out of it, telling him he
“didn’t think the girls would go for it”. A notorious player in every sense of the word, Perry was easily dissuaded
and adopted the wreath, the ancient Greeks’ symbol of victory. He often complained that his lower-class status put
him at a major disadvantage among his peers, and ironically his iconic polo was later embraced by mods and
skinheads, speaking to youth subcultures that, too, felt like outsiders.
Perry and Lacoste, however, were not the only two racket-wielding style icons of the
20thcentury. Bunny Austin was the
first to don shorts in 1932, after Bill Tilden made flannel trousers and cable-knit sweaters a popular choice. Bjorn
Borg’s fearlessness on the court was reflected in his style, preferring short shorts and fitted open collar polos,
pushing the boundaries where he could. His floppy hair, striped headband and ever-present chain around his neck
gently mocked Wimbledon’s traditional values, while his endorsement of sportswear brand Fila set the ball rolling on
relationships between players and brands. Off-court, his louche unbuttoned shirts and bicep-bursting sleeves were
camp in all the right ways, and earned him pin-up status in the late ’70s. Other players soon took his lead,
introducing their own individual accessories; John Connors sported a raffish bowler hat during a game in 1976, while
Arthur Ashe was rarely seen without his signature thick spectacles and yellow-gold Rolex Day-Date ‘Presidential’.
Some, however, still found the rules too hard to swallow. Andre Agassi (whose mullet was an accessory in itself,
although he later admitted to wearing a wig on court in the late 1990s) boycotted Wimbledon three years running in
protest against the all-white restrictions, but eventually even he realised he couldn’t change them, telling CNN;
“Wimbledon is a place where I learnt to wear white, where I learnt to bow… where I learnt to accept and come to
Not limited to the confines of SW19, though, the all-white aesthetic has transcended
the sport and repeatedly filtered into cultural outlets; directorWes Andersoncited Borg as inspiration for Richie’s character inThe Royal Tenenbaums, luxury powerhouse Hermès drew heavily on tennis-chic back in SS10, and Adidas’ collection of Stan Smith tennis-shoes has become a unisex sneaker staple. The popularity of vintage sportswear returns with the same regularity as the tennis season (especially since the birth of ‘athleisure’ in menswear), and we can only hope it will endure as long as Wimbledon itself.