Pass The Strawberries: History of Wimbledon Style

Posted on

Another year has flown by and it's time again to pack up those picnic baskets, pop the champagne and enter the Pimms haze: Wimbledon is back! In amongst the teeny tiny shorts, the pearliest whites and the tightest of dresses, the biggest competition of all takes place off the court and in the stalls. Spectator style takes its annual fierce turn, as the finest floaty frocks and linen trousers glide into the grounds and perch on Henman Hill. At Rokit, we have got you covered: stand apart from the crowd and go for a grand slam with vintage exclusivity.

Words by Sophie Soar

History of Wimbledon

As the oldest tennis tournament in the world, Wimbledon Tennis Championships began in 1877 and is held annually at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon, London. One of four of the major tennis 'Grand Slams' held annually (and the only one to be held on grass), Wimbledon carries immense weight and presence to British summer viewing. During its two week takeover, in which we all channel our inner Sue Barker and Boris Becker, becoming overnight tennis experts, the traditions flow as free as the champagne: Queen Elizabeth makes her entrance; everyone complains when rain interrupts play or noses burn to a crisp; ball boys and girls nimbly duck serves reaching speeds of about 100 mph. It's all frightfully British.

The organisers of Wimbledon ensure to retain certain traditions, such as cutting the grass to exactly 8mm in height or releasing the grounds' resident hawk, Rufus, to scare away the pigeons (he is also an active Tweeter, boasting just under 9k followers). Spectators can also proudly state their valiant efforts in the joint effort to consume 27000 kg of strawberries and 7000 litres of cream annually. Not bad going.

Today, we think of Wimbledon as Federer's playground, Murray's home turf and the scene of sibling rivalry as the Williams sisters battle for glory. In the 139 years of its history, each decade has provided new champions for the world to see. With each of them, there has been a steady evolution of tennis and sports style in accordance with historical milestones such as the liberation from restrictive, corseted clothing in the twenties to the sexual revolution and second wave feminism in the sixties. From Boris Becker's eighties ensembles, complete with the vibrant strawberry blonde mane, to Billie Jean King's sixties bob and pleated skirts, accompanied with a determined stance on gender equality within the sport, the fashion and technology behind the court appearances have evolved immensely since its birth in the 19th century.

Fred Perry

As a grand slam champion turned menswear designer, Fred Perry clothing demonstrates the introduction and long-lasting reign of sportswear within a day-to-day wardrobe. From a Northern working class background, the tennis player cum designer gained immense popularity amongst the demographic. Perry's designs became closely associated with mod culture and was favoured amongst skinheads. Previously regarded as an unusal faction of anyone's wardrobe, mod clothing took off in the early sixties and experienced a revival in the late seventies. It remains a favoured look today, from polo shirts to androgynous appearance, favoured by the female mod-rockers such as Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy.

Returning to tennis wear within this fashion movement and its chief architect the "modfather", Fred Perry clothing provides the perfect casual sportswear for him and for her. Despite repeatedly clashing with the sporting world for his lack of finesse, resulting in a ban from Wimbledon towards the end of his career, Perry's clothing remains popular. Exploring further afield from the designer's label, tennis-inspired activewear oozes a laid back appeal in your summer wardrobe, allowing for light and breezy looks in the summer heat.

Jean Rene Lacoste

The famous logo of the Lacoste sports shirt developed from the French businessman Jean Rene Lacoste's background as a tennis player. The first logo was embroidered by Lacoste's friend Robert George onto the tennis player's shirt. There is still dispute today as to whether the logo is a crocodile or alligator, following stories that Lacoste was nicknamed the crocodile by friends for his ferocity whilst playing but also that he won a bet for which the winnings was a crocodile or alligator skin suitcase.

Lacoste was one of a group of four famous tennis players in the 1920s and early 1930s known as 'The Four Muskateers' for their dominance within the sporting competition; Lacoste won seven Grand Slams and was World no. 1 in 1926-7.

Lacoste developed a new sports shirt design following his belief that the previous alternatives were uncomfortable and impractical, patenting pique technology in 1926. Alongside his shirt design, frequently worn today as both sport and casual wear, Lacoste also revolutionised the game by introducing the first tubular steel tennis racket to replace the clunky wooden ones. These were debuted at Wimbledon but adopted by American brand Wilson Sporting Goods.

Ted Tinling

Whilst Lacoste dominated the tennis grounds, English tennis player Cuthbert Collingwood "Ted" Tinling grew up in the French Riviera, playing alongside Suzanne Lenglen. He became her personal umpire for two years which led him to Wimbledon in 1927, the final year Lacoste held onto his title as World No. 1.

After World War II, Tinling designed dresses throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s for the greatest female tennis players. His designs were worn by many of the female Wimbledon champions during these active years of designing. Tinling was a close friend and supporter of Billie Jean King, dressing her for the Battle of the Sexes match in 1973, and six years later designed the wedding dress for 18 Grand Slam winner Chris Evert.

Yesim Philip

Whilst many players have turned designers over the years, other sporting professionals have turned tennis and sportswear designers, such as Yesim Philip, the CEO, creative director and designer of L'Etoile Sport. A tennis player, runner and previously professional basketball player, silhouettes of early female tennis players influence and inspire Philip's designs for L'Etoile Sport; a company that brandishes the logo "Play all day" to inspire on-and-off-the-court appeal. The designs utilise Lacoste's pique technology, providing a modern spin on vintage sportswear aesthetic.

On Court Style Her

During the 1924 championships, Suzanne Lenglen wore dropped waist and slash neckline styles, silhouettes typical of fashions worn during the roaring 20s. Her sportswear was loose fitting and allowed for ease of movement, a vast contrast to the restricting styles of the late 1800s when women competing in the tournament wore tight fitting corsets and floor length dresses that conformed to sartorial etiquette of the period. The 20s was a liberating time for women, especially in terms of what they wore. This is reflected in the shorter, relaxed fit styles seen on the court at Wimbledon.

From top left (1920s) to bottom right (1990s)

From the elegance of the twenties and the animal print fabulosity of the fifties to nineties full body Lycra and contemporary colourful fun, female players have demonstrated their outgoing and playful personalities throughout the years, liberated about the court with the shortened hemline and easy movement outfits.

On Court Style Him

For the male tennis player, an elegant look has transpired since the championship started in 1877. Whilst Fred Perry and Don Budge opted for a classic, understated style on court, Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Rafael Nadal have evolved the look to include outbursts of vibrancy. As evolved from the crocodile detailing of Lacoste's shirts, Roger Federer also personalised his on court ensembles, brandishing the iconic 'RF' on shirts, bags and caps.

The Ultimate Spectator Sport

Whilst most travel from far and wide to visit Wimbledon in the hopes of analysising Nadal's drop shot rather than the branding of his trainers, the fashion extends and draws many a critical eye amongst the hundreds of thousands that pass through the gates. The tennis whites and designs intrigue to an extent, however it is predominantly those off court that interest the masses.

The fifties saw circle skirts and cinched waists aplenty, whereas the eighties saw the spotlight on shell suits and shoulder pads. The focus of the nineties predominantly fell on Princess Diana, whose birthday falls on the first Thursday of Wimbledon this year.

As Ascot visitors often judge the hats as opposed to the horses, Wimbledon goers alternatively judge summer style as well as sports stardom. Whilst the tennis remains the focus of the two weeks, our eyes can't help but glance over the wonderfully varied and forever evolving spectator style heading from centre court to the pimms tent.

So for those of you lucky enough to grace the tennis grounds this summer, Rokit is here to supply the perfect vintage flare to your wardrobe as the style battles continue. Whether channelling your inner tennis star style or the ultimate spectators' look, Rokit's range from fabulous fifties to naughty nineties covers all the Wimbledon requirements for a sophisticated yet easy look.

Whether in the confines of the Wimbledon dress code or looking to update your street style and day-to-day wardrobe, the Rokit website offers an array of easy to wear clothing. From trainers to sports jackets, tennis-inspired whites to protective but perfectly pretty sun wear, the look is easily achievable in just a few clicks.

Get Princess Diana's Look: Sunglasses | Necklace | Jacket

It's All About Colour!

Both on and off the pitch, colour splashes about the grounds, passing in front our telly screens like volley shots flying left right and centre. Wimbledon further made history as the first ever broadcast to be televised in colour in 1967, sidelining white to the players and allowing for colour to take centre court. Whether flowing 50s dresses, high-waist floral skirts or colourful chinos, the more vibrant the better when celebrating British summer fashion at an event that epitomises British culture.

Get Anna Wintour's Look: Dress | Cardigan | Clutch

Is there a better way to enjoy the sun than float about in floral print? Whether a frock full of flowers or a breezy skirt, the easy summer wear perfectly complements sunshine, shades, strawberries and cream. These classic prints add some fabulous summer cheer, neatly lifting one's wardrobe with a subtle stroke of print.

Come Rain or Shine

Despite the installation of the retractable roof on Centre Court in 2009, Wimbledon has historically suffered at the hands of the British weather. Play has often been interrupted due to the forever unpredictable British weather; the first final in 1877 was postponed for three days due to rain, with similar instances of intermittent play today to the great frustration of players and spectators alike. Whilst rain may impede play, it should never ruin your day! So why not add some colour amongst the grey drizzle to fend off any potential downpour? Alternatively, Rokit has an array of waterproofs to keep that vintage feel when cowering from the rain, whether working the tennis sportswear trend with a 90s track jacket or donning a Burberry mac to complement your spectator style.

Alternatively, when the sun starts glaring down upon everyone in the stalls, sun protection proves itself the upmost necessity. To shield your eyes from the dazzling gleam of the tennis whites or subtly hiding a champagne haze, a pair of vintage sunnies adds a fantastic lift to your outfit. Fortunately, vintage eyewear offers a variety of styles and sizes to suit any faceshape and outfit, from cat eye and bug eye through to wayfarer and oval sunglasses. The favoured accessory of choice amongst the Wimbledon frequenters would undoubtedly be the sun hat (which too can neatly double up as rain protection just in case). Often a sea of boaters, caps and straw hats, headwear stands out of the crowd as the first and foremost visible piece.

So whether braving the British elements or watching from the comforts of your own home, don't miss the chance to get Wimbledon ready with Rokit, sporting the greatest styles this summer with a tennis twist.