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By Jean Kirshenbaum
© Fred Mullane and Susan Mullane/Camerawork USA

(July 2, 2010) The women can turn just about any tennis court into a fashion runway. Despite the restrictive whites-only dress code, the green carpet of Wimbledon is no exception.

Fashion? What fashion?  Everyone wears white at Wimbledon. Well, most brides wear white
at weddings, too, but their dresses don’t all look alike. Just flip through the brides magazines to see the endless variety of white dresses and gowns (Stay with me here, fellas; I’ll get to you.) At Wimbledon, the distinctions are creatively subtle. Of necessity, they would have to be when everyone is wearing white. Is that such a bad thing?


Okay, so Venus, since you brought up the conversation of fashion at the French Open, where you wore your red and black retro Moulin Rouge can-can number — eeuuww la la! — with the faux nude pants underneath. Although you were kicked off the runway kind
of early this year, we’ll start with you and your Wimbledon whites. As that Oscars red-carpet fashion commentator Joan Rivers might say: "Venus, my dear, where did you get that simply faaabulous white dress?! And all that fringe. Uh- I love it."

I know I’m on thin ice here, but I liked it, too, undulating fringe and all.

The dress was all white, of course, with — count ‘em — five layers of fringe!  Now that’s not just unusual, its creative. Even my sister, who doesn’t watch tennis, brought up that dress when I mentioned to her that I was watching Wimbledon. "I love her dress. Who was it, Serena?" (A dead a give away that she doesn’t follow tennis.) How did she happen to see it? Online in a New York Times photo, she explained. If they are even three pounds overweight, most women couldn’t get away with that fringe because it would accentuate any and every bulge. The relatively slender Venus, however, carried it off beautifully. I don’t think her muscular sister Serena could have gotten away with it, but it probably wouldn’t have mattered to her. You want the fringe? So wear the fringe.


On the other hand, Serena has been wearing a little white number that is both tasteful and flattering, which as you know is not always the case with this defending champ. (Think black catsuit at the 2002 U.S.Open.) At Wimbledon it’s a form fitting dress, trimmed with red piping under the chest, with a slightly flared panel at the hem, trimmed in red. Her bright, pinkish-red undershorts coordinate with a red Nike swoosh on her shoes, which also sport a graphic that apparently is a symbol of her commitment to Africa, where she has opened two schools in Kenya, and where her goal is to open one school each year. Were you as surprised as I was that her red pants got by the Wimbledon fashion police? Not as egregious as her sister’s faux nude, I guess.

Elegance, thy name is Maria Sharapova. On the green carpet she wore Nike’s Lawn Rose dress, smooth fitting across the torso, draped softly with five layers of fabric, each layer trimmed alternately with white and cream satin bands. Although Serena knocked her off the runway in the fourth round, her dress was a winner. Not so with Ana Ivanovic (one of my favorite players), who left the runway in a first-round loss to Shahar Peer. Given the weeds that have grown around her game, for the time being the best that’s left for Ana is her fashion. She took the 6-3, 6-4 defeat in a tailored white dress.


On the other hand, tailored doesn’t describe the redesign of her web site, which is now very girlie, with bouquets of pastel-pedaled flowers on the masthead. In fact, she says on her website that after the French Open she went to visit family in Belgrade, where "I went to the premiere of Sex and the City 2 and also took part in an event for my sponsor Verano: a shopping party at the Zira mall." There is also a "magazine covers" link where you can see the lovely Ana modeling some terrific tennis (and other) fashions — not necessarily white.
Wimbledon’s tennis runway also included Caroline Wozniacki, who wears Stella McCartney. I wish she wouldn’t. Those dull celadon and clay dresses are very unflattering and I can’t imagine any recreational player buying any of those Adidas dresses the lovely young Wozniacki wears. (See my previous column, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, for my take on this.) Better you should wear white, Caroline. Wimbledon is good for you.

Some other fashion notes:

•    Nadia Petrova in several tiers of something — can you believe it?
•    Victoria Azaranka —  layers of ruffles
•    Jelena Jankovic —  layers of ruffles
•    Stefanie Voegele and Maria Kirilenko kicked it up in mini-mini dresses
•    Li Na, and Vera Zvonereva, Petra Kvitova — pleats!
•    Kim Clijsters — appropriate, but nothing special


Was it just a coincidence that so many women have been wearing layers this year? It’s as if they called or texted each other after the French Open to find out what they intended to wear at Wimbledon, and they all settled on something with layers. 

But wait! There was a hold out.  Ruffles, fringe, layers, and pleats? "I wouldn’t be caught dead in anything like that," the reserved Ms. Henin might say in her low alto. Justine personified the Wimbledon tradition, gracing the grass in a plain, highly tailored, no- frills top and skirt, with black or blue piping around the neck. It was a tennis outfit that could best be described as crisp.


Unlike Maria, I’m no fashionista. On the other hand, as a recreational player who spends a lot of time on a tennis court, I generally like to look nice off the court and on. And If I don’t gain 5 pounds, I’m stocked for life with tennis attire, ever since I went to the most amazing sale a few years ago at a nearby swim and tennis club in Fort Washington, PA. The owner, Drew Sunderlin (who for many years was a stringer for Pete Sampras and Fed Cup), holds an annual  $5 sale in order to move old inventory and make room  for new stock. A couple of years ago, I made out like a shoplifter and took home $500 worth of tennis clothes for just $89. What? You read it right — $89 for $500 retail. There is one downside to this haul. With a third of my closet now stuffed with tennis dresses, shorts and tops in all styles and colors — including white — I can never decide what to wear.

Let’s leave PA and head back to the All England Club, where shoes have been destroying the grass.
For the most part, players wear what’s comfortable, durable, and designed for footwork, agility and movement. They just happen to be white because they have always been white. So shoes are just shoes. Or are they? What about last August in New York, at the US Open? That’s where Melanie Oudin stepped onto the court and stomped on a succession of top players to reach the quarterfinals. How could anyone forget her multi-color Adidas shoes, branded on the heel with her emblem "believe." Those shoes were simply off the
wall. And I loved them.

Unfortunately, since then Melanie hasn’t lived up to anyone’s belief in her and we haven’t seen the shoes, either. Maybe she ought to drag them out of the closet and put them on again. Melanie’s shoes were truly unique. Did you know that you can actually design your own on the Adidas website? Always partial to Adidas shoes, I designed a pair in yellow, blue, black and green (whew!), but I didn’t complete the purchase for two reasons. If they didn’t fit, I wouldn’t be able to send them back. Also, it’s a shoe for young people and I’m now an older adult who someday will likely need those ugly orthopedic shoes. For me, damn it,  necessity is winning out over fun and style. But who even needs  the high fashion of Sex and the City 2 (I hope Ana enjoyed it) and Carrie Bradshaw and the rest of those silly city girls. Their stiletto heels would ruin not only the grass at Wimbledon, but also their feet. Give me “Believe.”

But hold on. The men in white aren’t coming to take you away. They’re playing at Wimbledon, too. But for the men all white means all dull. (See? I told you, guys, I’d get to you.) On the other hand, Wimbledon has succeeded in taming the baggy look (both shirts and shorts) that has been in vogue for much too long. (See The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly again for more opinion..)
There is just one name in men’s tennis where fashion is concerned: Roger Federer. And just one word to describe him: dapper. But, alas, poor Rog had to leave the party early, throw his whites in the laundry, and slip into his street clothes.


Finally, let’s change it up and cheer for color. The collar of Andy Roddick’s shirt was trimmed with pink, blue and black stripes. I thought it looked great. A lot of the other guys, as well, have taken to adding a touch of color. A yellow swoosh here, a touch of orange there, with shoes to match, a fashion statement that has been popular for several years—especially with Novak Djokovic. And that’s about all you can say for the men.

Given Wimbledon’s tradition of white tennis attire, it’s not easy to be distinctive or to make your fashion mark on the tennis court. You have to do that with your racket. 


But what a refreshing change from the sometimes questionable attire the women have worn at other tournaments. Venus isn’t the only one.  How about that black and gold lame number worn by Aravane Rezai, who beat Venus at the Madrid Open. Red and black, black and gold. Picture all that good taste as a doubles team. Perish the thought.

And Martina Navratilova will just die when I bring up what she wore at a 1989 Virginia Slims tournament in Philadelphia. You won’t believe it: a black dress with silver sparkles. Her opponent was Monica Seles. I have no idea what Seles wore, but I sure do remember how she played. And I don’t remember who won the match. But I’ll never forget that black and silver dress.

You may not agree, but most of the outfits this year were winners in my book. It’s a wonder that you can do so much with white. If they brides can do it, so can the athletes. I liked all the layers, the ruffles, and the pleats. What’s best is that I can’t think of anyone whose clothes were over the top. Can you?

Jean Kirshenbaum is a Tennis Now contributing writer and avid tennis player based in Pennsylvania. Her previous columns include Ad In, Ad Out: Best and Worst TV AdsDressed To Kill: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly and Tennis Nearly Killed Me...And Then It Saved My Life.


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