Over the years, much attention has been paid to the rules of dress at Wimbledon. From players to spectators, dress codes have always been strict, reflecting both the sense of occasion and decorum that the event inspires. Like many British traditions, Wimbledon is both an institution and a seasonal milestone, an unofficial symbol of summer and, increasingly, a sartorial runway for both sportsmen and staff alike.
Historically, less scrutiny has been directed at the umpires, officials and linesmen. That is, until Ralph Lauren came along in 2006 and changed the rules, serving an ace for the clothing corporation’s European market and becoming the first clothing brand to be exclusively associated with Wimbledon, a decision by the All England Lawn Tennis Club that turned out to be a game-changer.
Before 2006, Wimbledon uniforms were manufactured by Wood Harris Ltd, a British uniform maker and while not purely functional, they were there to serve a purpose. Linesmen were dressed in green from head to toe, quite literally blending in with the background, and ball boys wore fitted green polos and thigh-skimming purple shorts; Wimbledon’s signature colours. Instantly recognisable, maybe, but stylish? Not quite.
Eleven years ago, Ralph Lauren won the sponsorship, setting the bar high and over the years going on to overcome British brands like Burberry and Aquascutum with designs inspired by tennis players of the 1930s and 1940s. Navy blue took precedence, with Wimbledon accents in the form of breast pocket logos and striped ties in green and purple. Despite helming an all-American brand, it was Mr Lauren’s personal obsession with English culture and tradition that produced a classic, traditional look – it’s said he also rifled through archives of photography of students at Oxford and Cambridge playing tennis, too. He’s openly admitted a love of Downton Abbey, the Windsors and Cary Grant – so it’s no surprise his understanding of English style is probably better than most Brits’. Polo Ralph Lauren itself draws on a quirky but quintessentially British sport, and inspired by a country club aesthetic, Polo’s take on tennis garments reflects the timeless nature of the brand as a whole.