Why Wimbledon Wears White
Every summer the best players from around the world descend on SW19 for two thrilling, nail biting weeks of tennis.
I’ve been fortunate on many occasions to just chance it and turn up to see if there are any return tickets. I clearly had lady luck on my side as not only did I managed to get into the grounds, but into the coveted Court no. 1 and Centre Court. Yes, I was beyond excited to watch some amazing matches.
Walking around the grounds, I couldn’t help notice just how well the All England Lawn Tennis Club use their brand colour. Their iconic purple and green combination are everywhere and on everything. They want to imprint the association of these two colours to their brand. That’s clever marketing and good business.
What they are also known for is having the strictest colour dress code of any Grand Slam tennis tournament.
You can wear any colour as long as it’s white.
All players must wear white. Not cream, not ivory or off white. It must be white.
Why? Tradition of course. White has come to symbolise Wimbledon. This is a great example of colour symbolism which is one of the three ways we relate to colour.
Apparently, the all-white dress code originates from the 1800’s. The sight of sweat spots through coloured clothing was thought unseemly, especially for women, and “tennis whites” became regulation. Those were the days when it wasn’t deemed at all ladylike to sweat.
The All England Lawn Tennis Club is steeped in tradition, so much so that in 2014, a 10-part mandate was added to the competitors’ guide stating that:
- “white does not include off-white or cream”
- only “a single trim of colour no wider than one centimetre”
- accessories such as caps, headbands, bandanas, wristbands, shoes and even underwear must be white that “either are or can be visible during play (including due to perspiration).”
Clamping down on colour
Many tennis clothing manufacturers were injecting colour in an effort to have their clothes, shoes, accessories stand out and over the years, a sea of multi-colour was beginning to creep in. You only have to watch the other Grand Slams to see how much colour is worn. And this is what Wimbledon are clamping down on.
Allegedly in 2013 one of the turning points for these stricter guidelines was when Federer wore white shoes with luminous orange soles for his first-round match. He didn’t wear them for the next match so it’s likely an official had a quiet word with him.
I read the 10 points and I was surprised to see that even “Medical supports and equipment should be white if possible but may be coloured if absolutely necessary.”
Perhaps the All England Lawn Tennis Club want the focus to be on the match and not to be distracted by the bright flashes of colours.
Or perhaps the only brand colour they want to be seen are they own purple and green.
Interestingly it appears the tennis rackets can be in any colour.
Some players have voiced their opinion thinking the All England Lawn Tennis Club have gone too far. Nine time winner Martina Navratilova was told the blue stripes on her skirt was not acceptable. She challenged this as she had worn the same type of outfits at Wimbledon throughout her career. The irony here is you can see some of these pieces in All England Lawn Tennis Club Museum.
What are your thoughts? Stick with tradition or go multi-coloured like the other Grand Slams?
All Images: Karen Haller taken at Wimbledon 2018
Article first published 16 July 2018. Updated 6 July 2022
New York Times – Wimbledon white
I love this. I’m a huge tennis fan, even more so Wimbledon because of the iconic colours. The purple and green, and of course the white. For me the strict rules is exactly why I love it, as viewers we know exaclty what tournament we are watching. I love the respect for the rules, and that each player isn’t drawing too much attention to what they are wearing and concentrate on the game itself! However, from a fashion perspective, the choice of styles and accessories is where players bring out their own style!
To me, I can’t think of tennis being any other way than the white, green and purple! ( oh and Red strawberries !!! ) I take it seriously compared to other tournaments that would have other colours associated with it! I find it more professional, organised, disciplined. Personally I don’t like wearing white, not even on my wedding day, but often say I would wear white only at Wimbledon!
Hi Mei, I’m a huge tennis fan too and there is something special about Wimbledon isn’t there. There’s no mistaking it’s Wimbledon. Strawberries and cream have become iconic in their own right too! I’d love to know what colour you got married in 🙂