White Power? Tennis Fashion Explained
Adjust the contrast on your TV. The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club has once again opened its doors to the best of the best on the tennis circuit for Wimbledon, the oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament in the world. Steeped in history and tradition, Wimbledon is sort of like the National League of tennis (except it’s exciting and good). Spectators traditionally dine on cream and berries, the court is traditionally grass, and while the style of play has changed over the years—the baseline game has all but disappeared—the players famously still adhere to a strict tradition of wearing only white.
The conservative attire (and not-so-veiled racist message) is supposed to remind players and spectators alike of the civilized nature of the game. In all honesty, the stringent dress code makes writing an article on tennis fashion pretty difficult. One might be inclined to draw focus away from the players and to the ball boys and girls in their navy Ralph Lauren Polo outfits, or the who’s who of celebrities in attendance, ranging from members of the British Royal Family to Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. And it would be hard to fault this. After all, the last truly “big story” for Wimbledon fashion came way back in 1991 when (Canon) rebel Andre Agassi made his long-awaited return after a four-year absence. While John McEnroe was the original bad boy of tennis (and had the best Air Trainers), Agassi was the sport’s first real rock star. He had the hair, the earring (just one), and, most famously (or infamously), the loud outfits. Nike decked Agassi out head to toe in fluorescent and neon, not to mention some great kicks (Air Tech Challenge I and II). It might be hard to imagine now, looking at the photo above, but at the time Agassi was too fucking cool. He was like a top three Nike athlete (after MJ and Bo). He hung out in commercials with Anthony Kiedis and Flea. In an era of radical shit popping off like Ninja Turtles and Nintendo he fit right in. Anyway, the whole affair was all for naught, as ‘Dre decided to play ball and don the white (although it did produce this).
Since Agassi, fashion critics like yours truly have had to dig deep to find something worth talking about besides the best way to get grass stains out of white tennis shorts. Here is a short list of who/what to look out for and what’s been happening.
While Venus came in this year ranked way back at No. 58 on the world list, she finishes dead last in style. The toga-inspired tennis number (above) that she wore last year was a disaster. It came from her own line, EleVen, so she has no one to blame but herself. Her website states that she decided to start her own line because, after all, she “put in the time to go to school for fashion design.” I guess she should have studied harder. Williams decided to play it conservative this time around, sporting a nondescript tennis dress for her opening-round loss. Her early exit means we’ll never know what spectacular mess she had planned for her later matches.
Last year’s winner on the men’s side, the Serbian SensationTM has a new(ish) sponsor after parting ways with Italian designer Sergio Tacchini. DJ inked a five year deal with Japanese clothing giant Uniqlo. If you like what you see you can pick some of his gear up at your local prefecture (as long as you live in Manhattan).
Last year Nike dominated the ladies’ side, having an all-Nike semi-final. This year they should have a strong showing again on both sides of the tourney. Now, I agree, Nike tennis gear is pretty boring, so let’s talk about what they do best, sneakers. It’s been a long time since Nike had a great tennis shoe. In fact, some (not me) might say Nike in general is going the way of RIM stock. Since the Air Meadow Supreme came out in the mid 90s, it’s been slim pickings. But the company has rebounded and the Nike Zoom Vapor 9 Tour (aka the Federer) is a step in the right direction. I particularly enjoy the platinum/black/cool gray/action red and the white/court purple/court green colorways (the latter perhaps drawing inspiration from the Air Tech Challenge, you be the judge).
As far as I know, no one will be wearing the OG tennis shirt. Britain’s own Andy Murray dropped them a few years ago for adidas, which is a shame because four out of five skinhead doctors agree that Fred Perry is the illest.
Everyone at Wimbledon is essentially wearing the same thing, but some will be wearing it better. The classic Lacoste polo will be worn by the top-ranked American player John Isner as well as the top-ranked Canadian Milos Raonic and, let me just say, they both look fucking great.
Oh, and for those of you who care, there will also be actual tennis matches being played. But I don’t know shit about tennis.