Nothing but white, The Wimbeldon rulebook clearly states. Here’s how the players are turning this enforcement into a style statement

The world’s most prestigious tennis competition, The Wimbledon, enforced a strict all-white kit rule before the start of the season this year. The rule is so strict that even cream and off-white have been banned. “Any undergarments that either are or can be visible during play (including due to perspiration) must also be completely white except for a single trim of colour no wider than one centimetre (10 mm),” says the Wimbledon rulebook on clothing and equipment that was given to players well in advance. In previous championships, on and off-court stunners Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova have flaunted bright knickers under their white uniforms. The All England Club was intent on avoiding such improprieties this year.

So far, players have stuck to the rules, but not without putting a playful spin on their all-white ensembles. Italian Camila Giorgi sported lace accents on her top and skirt and Venus Williams looked classy in a short tennis dress with mesh inserts – a creation from her Eleven line. And in his last game, where he defeated World No. 1 Rafael Nadal, Australian Nick Kyrgios, brought a little rapper chic to the English court with a jagged line in his haircut and bling around his neck.

As much as the game of tennis is associated with class and grace, no other grand slam event overdoes it as the Wimbledon. Until this year, strict rules were imposed on debenture holders who enjoy seats in the centre court, where jeans, sports shoes, collarless shirts and trainers were all banned. However, the rules were relaxed this year barring only “ripped jeans” and “dirty trainers” from the exclusive areas of the Centre Court.

“The Wimbledon is the world’s most respected tennis championship. The all-white ensemble against the green lawn court looks lovely. However, the relaxation of the dressing rules in the centre court is disappointing as it takes away from the aura of the championship. Dressing up formally for the event, I believe, is respectful of its legacy,” says Pavithra Raghu, tennis coach and player.

The Wimbledon enjoys a rich legacy and has seen transformations from the floor-length skirts of the 1880s to the tight mini-skirts of today. At the inaugural ladies championship finals in 1884, sisters Maud Watson and Lillian were cinched in corsets and belts, and covered up in floor-grazing skirts, long sleeves and hats. May Sutton Bundy, the American who won the women’s single championship in 1905, caused a stir when she rolled back the cuffs of her dress and revealed her wrists because it was too hot!

But with the roaring twenties, the sartorial constraints of the previous decade were done away with and French player Suzanne Lenglen was among the first to abandon constricting corsets and embrace below-the-knee, cocktail inspired dresses. By the 30s, silhouettes became more feminine, outfits were tailored and pleats were added. The hemlines too took a shaving for the ladies wanted better mobility. Helen Wills-Moody, Helen Jacobs of the 30s paved the way for Katharine Hepburn who rejected skirts and opted for high-waisted shorts in the 40s. The post-war 50s saw a return of feminine elegance, but it was finally in the 60s that hemlines started creeping above the knees and players were wearing statement outfits. It was around this time that Teddy Tinling, British couturier, fell out of favour with the All England Club for he introduced lace tennis knickers. Gertrude “Gussie” Moran received disapproval from the club for the frilly knickers, a Tinling creation, she wore at a 1950 match. Tinling, on his part, was a tennis apparel sensation through the 50s and 60s, often collaborating with players to create eye- brow raising designs that would be kept top secret until the very day of the match.

“The biggest fashion risk takers from my generation would have to be Chris Everts,” says 50-year-old, Arjun Bafna, a tennis fan. “Billie Jean King also had a mean demeanour on court, the cat-eye glasses she wore were quite fierce,” he says. It was in the 80s and early 90s that pastel shades and subtle prints made their way to tennis uniforms. The clothes also became more practical with the use of lightweight breathable fabrics that were seen on players such as Steffi Graff and Monica Seles.

But, if any truly-inspiring fashion icons have emerged from the game, it would have to be the Williams sisters, one of whom, Venus, also runs a successful fashion label. “The Williams sisters’ sense of style is both impressive and shocking,” says Harini K., a tennis enthusiast.

“Maria Sharapova, on the other hand, also likes to look good on court. But she is more subtle, adding only Swarovski crystals to elevate her tennis dresses,” adds Harini. At her 2008 outing at the Wimbledon the tall player wore a tuxedo-inspired, Nike dress to the championships. Stella McCartney’s tennis line, developed in collaboration with Adidas, has also been a huge favourite with players looking to add style to their game. “I think the strict all-white rules at the Wimbledon is what makes this championship special,” says Pavitra. But, what is a fashion statement without a little colour? Even if it comes by way of colourful knickers.