A History of Wimbledon’s Dress Code

One of Wimbledon’s most defining features is the fact that it enforces an all-white dress code. This policy dates back to the days when Wimbledon was just a humble (if posh) lawn tennis club. For over 100 years, the all-white tradition remains an iconic part of the famous London court’s identity.

1877 Origins

Since the first Wimbledon Championship in 1877, all-white was already the cultural norm for lawn tennis associations. But why is that the case? Some speculate that it has something to do with sweat not being as visible on white clothing. While that sounds like a pragmatic reason for enforcing the dress code, it’s more likely that tradition offers the best explanation. Even before tennis took on its modern form, its predecessor, the French sport jeu de paume, had its players dressed in all white. These literally white-collared individuals wore white to signify their elite status, and so the tradition continues to this day as a way of honoring these origins.

1919 Lenglen Scandal

A 20-year-old Frenchwoman by the name of Suzanne Lenglen became part of what might have been the first major international scandal on the prestigious Wimbledon courts. Her low-necked, short-sleeved dress reached down only to her calves. She wasn’t even wearing a corset. The press called Lenglen’s outfit “indecent.” To everyone’s shock though, Lenglen would go on to defeat her traditionally dressed opponent, Dorothea Lambert Chambers, the then 7-times champion. The intense 2-hour long match came down to the wire, with Lenglen finally clinching out a win on the third set with a 9-7 victory. From this moment, a revolution in women’s tennis dress began as they began adopting more practical athletic attire over time, culminating in the modern women’s tennis apparel we see on court today.

1963 Official Dress Code Enacted

Despite following tradition since 1877, it wouldn’t be until nearly 100 years later that the now-famous all-white dress code would be formally codified as part of tournament rules. In 1963, Wimbledon officially declared that competitors must be dressed in predominantly white. Up into the 80s, players can still be seen wearing clothing with stripes, patterns, and logos. This would change in 1993, when regulations tightened even further. Now players must wear “suitable tennis attire” that is almost entirely white. Trimmings and other patterns can’t be any wider than just a single centimeter. Referees have discretion over what counts as “suitable tennis attire;” that means no form-fitting catsuits! These restrictions apply from the moment competitors enter the tennis court area.

2022 Historic Dress Code Change

Recently, there’s been a minor yet impactful update to Wimlbedon’s dress code. As of 2022, women are now allowed to wear solid, dark-colored undershorts beneath their skirts and shorts. This small change has done a lot to alleviate players’ anxieties, especially concerning their appearance during menstrual periods. It’s already been well-received by many players, including Coco Gauff who expressed how this will improve players’ mental health. While this may be a small step now, it could pave the way for other changes in the future. For example, rules concerning the underbills of caps and visors might update sooner than we expect.

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