By Alix Ramsay
It has begun. The great All England Club knicker watch of 2014 is up and running. Forget the tennis, ignore the forehands and backhands – we are here to eyeball the underthings of the rich and the famous. It’s official.
This year, the good people of Wimbledon have put their foot down with a firm hand (as my grandmother used say). They have rules and they wish to enforce them with the main rule being to do with court attire: it should be predominantly white (in today’s politically correct world, that should probably be predominantly Caucasian or European American, but what the hell).
The clothing rule has always been in place but, over the years, little bits of colour have crept into the players’ outfits. It started with the designers’ logos, spread to trims and frills and finally spread to the knickers. And that is where it had to stop.
These days, those of a female persuasion do not wear frocks or skirts with simple undergarments – what you or I may have referred to as ‘briefs’ back in the old days – and, instead, they wear Lycra shorts under their kit. And, depending on the size of the lady in question, that can mean quite an impressive acreage of material. We shall not mention any names but one former champion with five titles in her collection already and her eyes on a sixth (she may also be the world No.1 but we are mentioning no names), buys her knickers by the square yard. When she chose to accessories the fringe she laughingly calls a skirt with cerise kecks the other year, she could be seen from space. But no more: even champions have to adhere to the rule.
The All England Club is frightfully proper and it must have taken many a committee meeting and much soul searching before they finally printed the dreaded word “undergarments” in the competitors’ guide. But once they had decided to publish and be damned, they went for broke.
“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.”
Just in case you should be confused, they point out that one centimetre is “10mm”. As for what constitutes “white”, they are quite specific: “White does not include off white or cream”. And to get the general point across, they explain that: “In addition, common standards of decency are required at all times.”
Everything is covered in the clothing guide – a brightly coloured watchstrap is banned, an ankle brace in anything but white is verboten and an iridescent bra strap could be deemed tantamount to treason. It even covers the “Rally for Bally” wristbands that are being sported by so many of the players at the moment. Sold to raise money for the late Elena Baltacha’s tennis academy in Ipswich (feel free to donate by going to https://www.justgiving.com/rallyforbally), the rubber bracelets are bright yellow – and, as such, are simply not allowed in SW19.
The bands were designed by Laura Robson and sold at a series of exhibition matches held over a week ago – and they sold like hot cakes. Then Laura, who has plenty of time on her hands these days as she waits for a serious left wrist injury to heal, had a brainwave: if the bands were white, Wimbledon would have nothing to complain about. So now, in between doing her stints for the BBC (a girl has to make a living somehow), she is personally handing out new, white bracelets to all the players in the clubhouse.
These clothing rules do not just apply to the players, though, and in the photographers’ pit, there is much grumping and harrumphing. This year, they have being given green, sleeveless jackets to wear (and to keep, if they so wish – although that seems unlikely). These jackets are in Wimbledon green (i.e. dull green) and are made of 100 per cent polyester. Not a penny has been spared on them, it would seem. They should also sweat up something lovely when the sun comes out – there is nothing like a manmade fibre to raise the core temperature of a hot snapper.
The despised garments have the individual’s number emblazoned on the front (photographers do not have names anymore in SW19, they only have a number) and this is for identification purposes, as in: “Oi – you: No 195; put that bleedin’ lens down, you ‘orrible little snapper!”.
There are other rules, too, for our intrepid picture gatherers: no sleeveless shirts and no sign of a thigh. If the photogs must wear shorts, the garments must be long enough to reach the knee – naked flesh is considered rude by the powers that be: we cannot have the membership whipped up into a frenzy by the sight of luscious leg or a naughty kneecap.
This rule does not apply to television, however. TV can do whatever they want round these parts so while the photo-bunnies on Centre Court were sweating in their green garments of mass perspiration (it has been very warm these past few days in London), there was the Beeb’s camera operative looking as if she was on holiday. She was lapping up the rays with no green jacket, no sleeves to her top and an inordinate amount of cleavage on show. It just didn’t seem fair, somehow.
The Centre Court is a haven of tranquil green (or disgruntled green in the snappers’ pit), there is not an advertising logo to been seen around the turf and the players are all decently attired in their predominantly white. And then there are the towels.
Much as the hot, sweaty chaps and chapesses would love to take the well-washed, soft, fluffy and absorbent white towels from the locker room on court with them (and so adhere to the theme of the clothing guidelines), they must use the official championship numbers instead. And for the birds, those towels are a startling, luminescent turquoise and pink. Available online via the club’s website, they will set you back £29 (that’s $50 to you and me) plus and extra £4.95 p&p. Do buy one – the club would love it. But don’t go wearing pink knickers while you do so or a posh bloke in blazer will be after you.