Here, we explore the history and culture of fashion at Wimbledon, investigating how clothing has progressed and what you should wear to watch the games.
If other tennis tournaments allow players to experiment with their sportswear and clothing, Wimbledon is the place to rebel. For women, tennis has not only represented a place to enforce ideas of equality but also a place to fight back against taboos.
Traditionally, the tennis lawn was one of the only places that men and women could freely interact. In this sense, tennis fashion for women was not about the practicality of playing, but one of status. Their monochromatic dresses imitated lawn dresses; outfits more fit for summer socialising than lunging with a racket.
When dress codes were formalised and as the sport became more competitive, women have sought to fight for their freedom to dress appropriately for the sport, liberating them from tradition. In 1919, French player Suzanne Lenglen was criticised for wearing a calf-length silk skirt and a short-sleeved shirt. The outfit was finished with a floppy hat. Although Lenglen followed the white-wear rule, she faced opposition for her “revealing” choices. However, Lenglen went on to win the tournament and achieved eight Grand Slam titles over the course of her career.
By 1949, American star Gertrude Moran adorned a short dress, intending to reveal her ruffle lace knickers to appalled spectators. The choice was made in rebellion against the all-white rule after being refused a colourful dress. However, Moran’s short skirt is more akin to modern tennis wear, allowing free and practical movement.
Today, tennis stars embrace the white-wear tradition, finding ways to add flair to their fashion choices. In 2019, Serena Williams fashioned a white knit top featuring 34 Swarovski crystals. An interesting and clever way to get around the guidance, it added a bit of class and sparkle to the tournament.
Does white suit you?
The culture of fashion at Wimbledon has historical significance. The tournament has one of the strictest dress codes. However, it’s not the spectators that need to follow them; it’s the players.
You may have noticed that all players at Wimbledon wear white clothing. But the tradition of wearing ‘tennis whites’ is older than the competition itself. Players at Wimbledon have been wearing white since the 1800s, believing that the colour would prevent or minimise the appearance of sweat stains. It was also believed that the colour would be cooling.
The Wimbledon Tournament launched in 1877 with white clothes being worn as standard practice. Back then though, the rules weren’t as strict.
Clothing guidelines have been updated three times since then, with the latest ten commandments of Wimbledon attire being issued in 2014. Today, you’re likely to see headlines of players being reprimanded for wearing the wrong colour underwear. At the 2018 tournament, Australian player John Millman famously made his father rush out and buy new white underwear.
So, the next time you’re out for a tennis match or want to get into the Wimbledon spirit, remember to dress head to toe in white, from your cap to your women’s trainers.
While there is no designated dress code for spectators at Wimbledon, watchers of the tournament still contribute to the growing culture of fashion at the games. Everyone enjoys the tournament, so you’ll find a range of spectators across British society attending the tournament. General spectators can dress casually. Although, ripped jeans, flip flops, and sport shorts shouldn’t be worn. Instead, find something comfortable but more tailored.
For debenture holders, to enjoy more than just strawberries and cream, you will need a more formalised style. You can’t wear jeans or trainers. But don’t worry, a shirt and tie is not an obligation.
If you find yourself in the Royal Box, then you’ve done something right. Men should wear lounge suits and jackets, while ladies should dress smartly. But don’t wear any oversized hats or take large handbags – they’re often frowned upon. Lewis Hamilton was famously refused entry to the Royal Box in 2015 after failing to meet the standard of dress.
If you’re not up to dressing up for the game, you can wear whatever you want watching from home or enjoying the games from Henman Hill, where even more rebellious outfits can be found.
Wimbledon has a large history and culture of fashion. As the sport progresses and new stars are made, we can expect more rebellion and style in the fashion choices of players and spectators. So whether you watch the tournament at Wimbledon or home, understand how you’re keeping the sport alive with what you wear.