What’s With Wimbledon’s White Rule, And How Do Brands Approach Designing For Tennis Players?

Ash Barty

New world No. 1 Ash Barty showing off Wimbledon whites for 2019.

CREDIT: Fila

Wimbledon went “predominately in white” with its dress code in 1963, and while players and brands have attempted to skirt the dress code rules—akin to a high schooler defying the principal—Wimbledon has only entrenched itself in the rule. It created a stricter version in 1995, says on-site Wimbledon historian Robert McNicol, when the Wimbledon powers “changed to ‘almost entirely in white’ to make it even stricter.” 

As brands fight for prominence and eyeballs at each of the tennis calendar’s four Grand Slam events by dressing players in unique patterns, singular graphics and an array of bright colors, they must take a different approach when they arrive in London for the summer. But while the rule may limit some creativity, it forces brand’s hands on other areas and opens up a new option at retail. 

The Championship, Wimbledon has continued to refine—and tighten—the white rule; in 2014, it included accessories in the rule listing for the first time. The apparel rule comes with 10 different points, really, and “refers to all clothing, including tracksuits and sweaters, worn on The Championship courts both for practice and for matches.” 

The rules include the definition that white “does not include off-white or cream” and note that the back of the apparel must be “completely white.” While “there should be no solid mass or panel of coloring,” Wimbledon does allow a single trim of color around the neckline and the cuff of the sleeves, no wider than one centimeter. Logos formed by variations of material or patterns are not acceptable, although small sponsor logos may contain color. The rules extend to shorts, skirts and tracksuit bottoms, headwear, shoes and undergarments. 

Wimbledon rules have grown stricter over the years. Bjorn Borg was well known for wearing his white Fila polo with green pinstripes and a solid navy collar. That five-time Wimbledon-winning shirt is no longer allowed on the court. 

The rules are exacting—and limiting, forcing brand designers to focus on something other than color when creating fresh gear for Wimbledon. “Our designers continue to fuse fashion and function, creating elegant, classic attire that embraces the rich history and tradition of Fila while selecting fabrics and integrating technology that allows for maximum performance,” says Lauren Mallon, director of tennis marketing for Fila. “We look to complement timeless Fila silhouettes with design elements that help classic white looks to make a statement.” This year, for example, Fila will use orange piping, mesh overlays and peplum and pleated designs. 

A special Fila P.L. Rolando Collection worn in London by Karolina Pliskova and Sam Querrey will include a jacquard (textured) racket print motif. 

With the loopholes closed—everything from color on the sole of a Nike shoe worn by Roger Federer in 2013 to colored underwear of past years has been eliminated as a possibility—brands have limited freedom. “Our Fila designers continuously challenge themselves to come up with new and unique ways to differentiate our on-court looks, whether it be strategic use of color pops, tonal prints or through fabrics and overlays to marry performance and style,” Mallon says. 

Asics takes a materials approach, says Tomoko Kobiro, part of the product management team for tennis. “The design focus is ultimately on material selections for the players, which allows for expression through design points with various textures in one color tone,” Kobiro says. “We also emphasized the silhouettes and specific patterns are developed for the most common movements in tennis. We believe the functional design and the accent of champagne gold colors spark the players on court during Wimbledon.” 

Even with limits in color on the court, the white isn’t all that limiting when it comes to retail. While brands may create designs meant to attract attention at other Grand Slams, that doesn’t mean those creations do much more than create buzz for the brand. While color certainly has a prominent role at the cash register, white does just fine, too, especially with plenty of tennis clubs the world over requiring white.

“As a neutral color, white is always a wardrobe staple, especially in the summer season,” Mallon says. “When our top athletes wear these collections on-court, it creates buzz and has an impact at retail.” 

Kobiro says white performs well at retail regardless of the season but becomes a top choice in the warmer summer months. “It would be interesting if the color accent was extended beyond the allowed one centimeter,” Kobiro says. “I understand the tradition and feel it’s important to keep it in the sport and it also creates a unique challenge for design teams. However, if a little more playful usage of the color were allowed, the product range could be pretty exciting.” 

Wimbledon’s white rule was born organically. White was seen both as a cooling color and as a way to hide sweat during the Victorian era in the 1870s. Former British player turned fashion designer Ted Tinling created stirs in the 1940s and 1960s by incorporating color and lace into dresses, leading to the official 1963 rule. 

As other tournaments started relaxing dress codes—the U.S. Open allowed color aplenty in 1972—players such as Federer have called the Wimbledon rules too strict, and Andre Agassi even skipped Wimbledon for four years, with the tradition and culture of the tournament throwing him off, he once said. Serena Williams in 2010 wore a strawberries-and-cream-inspired outfit of a cream dress with magenta coloring deemed inappropriate. 

With the strictest of rules gaining strength after every player and brand pushback, Mallon wasn’t about to chide the rules ahead of the 2019 tournament. “We appreciate and value the rich history, style and tradition of this event, and the commitment to maintaining and celebrating that history while making modern improvements,” she said in response to which of the 10 rules she’d most like to see changed. “The tournament’s importance to the game warrants a great level of respect.” 

Wimbledon demands that respect come almost entirely in white.  

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Wimbledon went “predominately in white” with its dress code in 1963, and while players and brands have attempted to skirt the dress code rules—akin to a high schooler defying the principal—Wimbledon has only entrenched itself in the rule. It created a stricter version in 1995, says on-site Wimbledon historian Robert McNicol, when the Wimbledon powers “changed to ‘almost entirely in white’ to make it even stricter.” 

As brands fight for prominence and eyeballs at each of the tennis calendar’s four Grand Slam events by dressing players in unique patterns, singular graphics and an array of bright colors, they must take a different approach when they arrive in London for the summer. But while the rule may limit some creativity, it forces brand’s hands on other areas and opens up a new option at retail. 

The Championship, Wimbledon has continued to refine—and tighten—the white rule; in 2014, it included accessories in the rule listing for the first time. The apparel rule comes with 10 different points, really, and “refers to all clothing, including tracksuits and sweaters, worn on The Championship courts both for practice and for matches.” 

The rules include the definition that white “does not include off-white or cream” and note that the back of the apparel must be “completely white.” While “there should be no solid mass or panel of coloring,” Wimbledon does allow a single trim of color around the neckline and the cuff of the sleeves, no wider than one centimeter. Logos formed by variations of material or patterns are not acceptable, although small sponsor logos may contain color. The rules extend to shorts, skirts and tracksuit bottoms, headwear, shoes and undergarments. 

Wimbledon rules have grown stricter over the years. Bjorn Borg was well known for wearing his white Fila polo with green pinstripes and a solid navy collar. That five-time Wimbledon-winning shirt is no longer allowed on the court. 

The rules are exacting—and limiting, forcing brand designers to focus on something other than color when creating fresh gear for Wimbledon. “Our designers continue to fuse fashion and function, creating elegant, classic attire that embraces the rich history and tradition of Fila while selecting fabrics and integrating technology that allows for maximum performance,” says Lauren Mallon, director of tennis marketing for Fila. “We look to complement timeless Fila silhouettes with design elements that help classic white looks to make a statement.” This year, for example, Fila will use orange piping, mesh overlays and peplum and pleated designs. 

A special Fila P.L. Rolando Collection worn in London by Karolina Pliskova and Sam Querrey will include a jacquard (textured) racket print motif. 

With the loopholes closed—everything from color on the sole of a Nike shoe worn by Roger Federer in 2013 to colored underwear of past years has been eliminated as a possibility—brands have limited freedom. “Our Fila designers continuously challenge themselves to come up with new and unique ways to differentiate our on-court looks, whether it be strategic use of color pops, tonal prints or through fabrics and overlays to marry performance and style,” Mallon says. 

Asics takes a materials approach, says Tomoko Kobiro, part of the product management team for tennis. “The design focus is ultimately on material selections for the players, which allows for expression through design points with various textures in one color tone,” Kobiro says. “We also emphasized the silhouettes and specific patterns are developed for the most common movements in tennis. We believe the functional design and the accent of champagne gold colors spark the players on court during Wimbledon.” 

Even with limits in color on the court, the white isn’t all that limiting when it comes to retail. While brands may create designs meant to attract attention at other Grand Slams, that doesn’t mean those creations do much more than create buzz for the brand. While color certainly has a prominent role at the cash register, white does just fine, too, especially with plenty of tennis clubs the world over requiring white.

“As a neutral color, white is always a wardrobe staple, especially in the summer season,” Mallon says. “When our top athletes wear these collections on-court, it creates buzz and has an impact at retail.” 

Kobiro says white performs well at retail regardless of the season but becomes a top choice in the warmer summer months. “It would be interesting if the color accent was extended beyond the allowed one centimeter,” Kobiro says. “I understand the tradition and feel it’s important to keep it in the sport and it also creates a unique challenge for design teams. However, if a little more playful usage of the color were allowed, the product range could be pretty exciting.” 

Wimbledon’s white rule was born organically. White was seen both as a cooling color and as a way to hide sweat during the Victorian era in the 1870s. Former British player turned fashion designer Ted Tinling created stirs in the 1940s and 1960s by incorporating color and lace into dresses, leading to the official 1963 rule. 

As other tournaments started relaxing dress codes—the U.S. Open allowed color aplenty in 1972—players such as Federer have called the Wimbledon rules too strict, and Andre Agassi even skipped Wimbledon for four years, with the tradition and culture of the tournament throwing him off, he once said. Serena Williams in 2010 wore a strawberries-and-cream-inspired outfit of a cream dress with magenta coloring deemed inappropriate. 

With the strictest of rules gaining strength after every player and brand pushback, Mallon wasn’t about to chide the rules ahead of the 2019 tournament. “We appreciate and value the rich history, style and tradition of this event, and the commitment to maintaining and celebrating that history while making modern improvements,” she said in response to which of the 10 rules she’d most like to see changed. “The tournament’s importance to the game warrants a great level of respect.” 

Wimbledon demands that respect come almost entirely in white.  

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I cover stadiums, sneakers and tennis. I have written regularly about design, gear, architecture and sport for TIME, Sports Illustrated, Popular Mechanics, Wired and mor...