Saturday, June 20, 2009

A brief history of fashion trouble at Wimbledon

Maria Sharapova suggests that, every few years, the All England Club allow players to wear colors. I disagree (I also disagree with her that Radek Stepanek is a tennis fashion disaster; I think he looks old-school great)--if you are going to have a (benign) tradition, stick to it.

The wearing of white is as classic as you can get when it comes to tennis. But there have been many interesting attempts to push the white rule--and all that it implies--as far as possible. No one worked harder at this than Ted Tinling, who first began causing trouble in 1947--when the white rule was implied, rather than written--when he designed a white dress with a colored border for Joy Gannon. Color was almost banned from Wimbledon the next year because Hazel Wightman was undone over a white-with-color dress Tinling designed for a Wightman Cup player.

In 1949, color was indeed banned at Wimbledon, and one of Tinling's designs instead incorporated white-on-white shimmering satin. The dress, designed for Gertrude Moran, included a pair of lace-edged underpants, and also included a 33-year-ban from Wimbledon for Tinling, who was not only a designer, but who had served as a liason between the players and the All England club. Players at Wimbledon continued wearing his dresses, however, and starting in 1952, every champion for ten years wore a Tinling design. He also designed for the other major tournaments.

In 1962, Maria Bueno caused a stir when she appeared at Wimbledon in a dress with colored diamond-shaped petals on the skirt lining, and across the underpants. Bueno's outfit provoked another total ban of color at Wimbledon.

Of all the players, however, Tinling was probably the most enamored of Rosie Casals; he turned her into an ongoing display of his various design fancies. There was trouble again at Wimbledon in 1972, in fact, when Casals showed up on court in a Tinling-designed white dress with purple squiggles on it. The dress was predominantly white, according to the new rules, but the referee's sensibilities were disturbed by the color purple (go figure), and the dress was banned. Casals thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing, and later joked that her Wimbledon dress beat her to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Then there was Anne White. In 1985, the suitably named American player appeared on court in her Wimbledon first round wearing a full-length white lycra bodysuit. Alan Mills was not amused. When the match had to be stopped because of darkness, he told White to return the next day in something more appropriate.

Moran's lace-trimmed underpants were not the first undergarments to create controversy at Wimbledon. In 1920, Suzanne Lenglen dared to play at Wimbledon without a corset, and was promptly named "the French hussy." In 1958, Karol Fageros wore gold lame underpants. And in 2007, Tatiana Golovin played around with the "spot of color" rule in a way that was unusually cheeky: She wore bright red underpants, a first for Wimbledon.

You can see Golovin's red drawers, White's bodysuit and Moran's lacy underpants here.

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