Wimbledon: A 146-Year-Old Dress Code Controversy in Tennis

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Wimbledon: A 146-Year-Old Dress Code Controversy in Tennis
Wimbledon: A 146-Year-Old Dress Code Controversy in Tennis

Kashif Abdul Razzaq

For the first time in its history, Wimbledon has relaxed its dress code for tennis matches. Why were these rules so strict?

In 146 years, Wimbledon has made a change to women’s attire, though it is seen as more of an incremental change than a revolutionary one. Players are now allowed to wear deep-colored undergarments during matches to alleviate discomfort during menstruation. All England Club’s Chief, Sally Bolton, stated that she hopes the new rule “will genuinely help players focus purely on their performance, easing undue stress for myself and the other girls present in the locker room.”

Many players have welcomed this change. American player Cory Gauff told Sky News last week, “I think it will definitely reduce the pressure for me and the other girls in the locker room.”Tennis historian Chris Bowers, known for chronicling the careers of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, sees this change as a response to societal pressure faced by Wimbledon.

Media reports that Wimbledon had no way out. “It was in a very awkward situation,” Bowers explains.

The idea that female players could only wear attire conforming to the nature of the sport is now being seen as outdated. Undoubtedly, these rules were antiquated and gender-biased.Now that some tennis courts have accepted women players’ demands, the Center Court’s traditional rules and regulations remained unchanged until recently. Players were told they “should be dressed almost entirely in white.” Off-white, cream-colored whites were not included.

Permitted are different designs and colors for items like Nike lines, cuffs, caps, headbands, wristbands, and shorts or skirts.

However, before players start adopting rainbow hues, the code is clear that “the measurement for the color inside a pattern will be done in the same manner as for the solid color; it must be within the 10 millimeters of the color guide.”
Additionally, “logos made from other materials or patterns are not acceptable.”

According to British tennis’ social history writer, Robert Lake, reveals that the code of the whitest dress has always been. “White color absorbs sweat better, looks clean, and feels fresh. It symbolizes goodness and captures the joyous moments of cricket’s deep-rooted history.”

Lake states that it evolved in various ways during the late Victorian era when it was expected that women would wear “proper clothing according to cultural expectations, i.e., modest dress.”

Their saying is that during the war, it was more about fashion, but in the 1950s, it became more about “elegance, work, comfort,” and later, during the open era, the traditional standards of women’s appeal, even for sexual attraction, continued to be associated with these outfits. These were the reasons why players continued to wear the traditional tennis attire.

It’s not just Wimbledon that enforces dress codes. A recent example of high-profile players challenging the rules was when Serena Williams wore a cat suit at the 2018 French Open.

It was her first Grand Slam match after becoming a mother, and she faced a ban on wearing that outfit in future tournaments. As one commentator wrote at the time, “This is an actual thing women’s bodies are being restricted, and it’s similar to the inhumane treatment black women receive.”

While other tournaments have relaxed dress codes, Wimbledon remains even stricter in terms of its rules and traditions.

Karen Boren, a fashion historian and co-author of “She is Got Legs,” tells BBC Culture, “Tennis court has always been a field where women challenged those boundaries and pushed them back, which society imposed on them.”

“Because Wimbledon has always been more traditional and conservative compared to its American or French counterparts, it has become a field where even the smallest expressions of individuality are heavily emphasized.”

Breaking principles and rulesHowever, according to Boorz, what is not defined is that “since the 1980s, both men and women have been subjected to more severe restrictions. These rules have become much more rigid in the 1990s and have been maintained in the past few decades.”

Steffi Graf and Boris Becker, who were wearing Tendlings designs, were not allowed to wear such styles on the Center Court.So, why can a step back be taken? Boorz thinks that “Wimbledon is very concerned about its brand…Wimbledon does not have any reason to insist that you have to wear a jacket and tie in the Royal Box, but they do so.”

“It’s all part of the Wimbledon brand, and we attach as much importance to strawberries and cream with the all-whites as we do to tennis.” Those who faced difficulties in the past due to Wimbledon’s strict dress code, how do they see this new progress?

Ann White’s opinion is that the question is about Wimbledon’s brand. “All of Wimbledon’s rules make it a special and challenging place to play professional tennis.” “I’m surprised that the All England Club made this decision. They allowed women’s attire to wear some colors. I’m surprised what’s next?”

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