Why do players have to wear white clothing when playing at Wimbledon?
Wimbledon’s strict dress code states that players must wear all-white attire, not cream or off-white, throughout the summer tournament.
Wimbledon is not only the oldest tennis tournament in the world, it’s also the most renowned. While the Australian, French, and US Opens each run their tournaments with their own requisites, Wimbledon is steeped in its own venerable traditions. From naming the respective men’s and women’s events, “Gentlemen’s” and “Ladies’” to the historic Centre Court which remains free of advertising, to requiring all players to adhere to a strict all-white dress code. Let’s dive a little deeper into that last point.
The Wimbledon dress code states that all players competing at the All England Club must be dressed from top to toe in white, with only minimal colours, such as trimming allowed on clothing and accessories.
“Competitors must be dressed in suitable tennis attire that is almost entirely white - this applies from the point at which the player enters the court surround. White does not include off white or cream. There should be no solid mass or panel of colouring. A single trim of colour around the neckline and around the cuff of the sleeves is acceptable but must be no wider than one centimetre (10mm). Colour contained within patterns will be measured as if it is a solid mass of colour and should be within the one centimetre (10mm) guide. Logos formed by variations of material or patterns are not acceptable. The back of a shirt, dress, tracksuit top or sweater must be completely white. Shorts, skirts and tracksuit bottoms must be completely white except for a single trim of colour down the outside seam no wider than one centimetre (10mm).
“Caps (including the underbill), headbands, bandanas, wristbands and socks must be completely white except for a single trim of colour no wider than one centimetre (10mm). Shoes must be almost entirely white. Soles and laces must be completely white. Large manufacturers’ logos are not encouraged”.
The reason why tennis players wear white at Wimbledon
So why is it that participants dress “predominately in white” or “almost entirely in white” at Wimbledon?
The short and straight forward answer is “because the dress code demands they have to.” But if we go back in time, we can begin to understand a little more about the Wimbledon mentality and the reason why organizers are so keen to preserve tradition.
In the 1880s, when the code was first written, it was frowned upon and considered improper to see a player wearing sweat-stained clothing. And because white was the color that least emphasized sweat stains, “tennis whites” became the standard attire for the affluent tennis players who participated at the tournament.
And if there’s one thing we know about the Wimbledon culture, it is that its people love their traditions and take pride in holding on tightly to them.
Has any tennis player ever not worn white at Wimbledon?
While it almost seems impossible to imagine how a Wimbledon tournament would go if a player decides to wear a non-white uniform, there actually have been some players who have tried not to over the years. One player who tested the tournament’s rules and regulations several times in recent years was Andre Agassi. The American, who won the tournament in 1992 and lost the 1999 final to Pete Sampras, is perhaps the most remembered for trying to flout the rules. Agassi refused to play at Wimbledon for three editions between 1988 and 1990 after being told he could not wear the flashy clothing that was largely part of his personal brand at the time. When he did finally decide to play he went all in on white, with a legendary moment as he took his tracksuit off...
But he wasn’t the only one who was approached. Even Roger Federer, one of the best men’s tennis players of all time, was not above the dress code. Back in 2013, the Swiss was rebuked for wearing orange-soled white shoes at the tournament, and was forced to replace them in his following match. The year after, legendary Czech-American Martina Navratilova also had an intense incident with the tournament officials, when they told her that her blue-striped skirt did not follow the code.
All-white dress code amended in 2022
However, tournament organizers did agree to make some small concessions to the dress code last year. In November 2022, after much discussion and engagement with the WTA, clothing manufacturers and medical authorities on how best to support women and girls competing at The Championships, the Committee of Management took the decision to update the Wimbledon white clothing rule to allow female competitors to wear mid/dark-coloured undershorts if they choose to. Requirements for all other clothing, accessories and equipment remain unchanged.
Sally Bolton, Chief Executive of the All England Club, explained: “We are committed to supporting the players and listening to their feedback as to how they can perform at their best. I’m pleased to confirm that, following consultation with players and representatives of several stakeholder groups, the Committee of Management has taken the decision to update the white clothing rule at Wimbledon. This means that from next year, women and girls competing at The Championships will have the option of wearing coloured undershorts if they choose. It is our hope that this rule adjustment will help players focus purely on their performance by relieving a potential source of anxiety.”