Wimbledon has a specific connect for me as far as tennis fashion is concerned. I would say that Wimbledon is the Cannes of tennis. It is not just the players who make an effort to dress stylishly here, but even the people who come to watch the matches are far better dressed. No shabby shorts or T-shirts here: From traditional blazers, hats, matching walking sticks, even the kerchiefs are usually perfectly turned out.
The dress code of white makes it challenging for designers and players to come up with something exciting every year. Sure, it is not easy to use white in a way that makes it interesting yet saleable all the time; working with something simple is always difficult. White has a plainness that is attractive. People may say that you cannot do as much with white as you can with, say, black or a darker shade, but I think if you do it right, white opens up possibilities that other colours cannot. It has purity and a non-distracting quality about it.
While white as the dress code at Wimbledon remains unchanged since the tournament started, the game itself has changed. I can’t imagine the Fred Perry-era of trousers making a comeback on Centre Court. Even in the mid-1930s, when Perry played, I feel wearing trousers was pushing the “English culture” too far.
Leading the way: (Left) Agassi’s Miami Vice look and long mane signalled changing times at Centre Court;Graf stuck to a simple wrap-style skirt. AFP
The game is much more aggressive, more technique blended with power nowadays. Fitness levels are higher and this creates an opportunity for fashion. Not only do you have good-looking clothes, but they have to be techno-savvy too. Each fashionable element in sportswear usually has a practical aspect to it—Maria Sharapova’s white tuxedo-shirt at Wimbledon 2008 had an all-mesh back to keep her cool, not just to up the sexiness quotient.
I also believe the emphasis on fashion and personal style at Wimbledon has a lot to do with the fact that tennis is an individual sport. Unlike a team sport, where you are constricted by a uniform, in an individual sport, players nowadays have realized that what you wear reflects your personal style, your personality, the mood you are in, and that further translates into your body language when you play. It even has the ability to affect how your opponent reacts and can give a player that extra edge.
Among my all-time favourites at Wimbledon is Bjorn Borg, who was far ahead of his time. His V-necked, collared T-shirts and shoulder-length hair with headband look may seem subdued now, but I believe that if he had been out there today, he would have outdone many of Centre Court’s current fashionistas.
Like Borg, Gabriela Sabatini and Steffi Graf too were short-changed as far as Wimbledon fashion went because of the era they played in.
Throughout the late 1980s, when Graf ruled the courts, she stuck to the “skirt pinned on one side” look. Her style was simple because it was such a conservative time. Even Sabatini, who could have carried off an Oscar gown with aplomb on the court, did not get much of a chance to experiment at Wimbledon.
Now it is in the interest of the players to be much more iconic than their predecessors were. I’m sure Graf would have carried the stylish gear we see on Centre Court with much elegance and style and definitely more wins than what we see today.
The breakaway process at Wimbledon started with Andre Agassi in the early 1990s. With his long hair, varied headgear and unshaven Miami Vice look, Agassi showed fans that he had the quirkiness, and could take over the madness of John McEnroe, if not in the way the game is played, then definitely in terms of style. Similarly, in this decade, Roger Federer has taken over the quiet sophistication that Stefan Edberg brought to Wimbledon.
Sharapova’s ‘swan dress’ floored fans and fashionistas. AFP
I sometimes even enjoy the garish or almost loud outfits that the Williams sisters turn up in, but I would still not credit them with shaking up Wimbledon fashion for women as much as Sharapova did. She puts serious thought into what she is going to wear on the courts. What she wore for the French Open took me by surprise. The blue dress was quite innovative…almost like an evening gown on the court. It is amazing that she can wear such stylish outfits and play at the same time. Of late, however, she seems to have become more of a style icon like Anna Kournikova than a serious contender for the title at Centre Court. I specially liked the shorts she wore last year at Wimbledon with the tuxedo-style shirt with a mesh back. Sexy yet practical. Her much celebrated “swan dress” (Wimbledon 2007) added a twist to a simple shift dress worn often at Wimbledon.
The men too are showing initiative in terms of style. Federer’s jacket at Wimbledon in 2007 was so simple. Someone should have done that years ago, yet not even Ralph Lauren, who designs court apparel, had attempted it earlier. All it took was to engrave “RF” on a corner of a jacket, and a style statement was born. My Spring-Summer 2008 collection was influenced by players such as Graf and Sabatini, perhaps because I grew up watching them play. That collection looked for ways to use white, to add colours to it, experiment with the 1960s shift dress, and work with heavily pleated short skirts.
As told to Seema Chowdhry
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