Björn Borg is one of those guys which the term ‘effortlessly cool’ hangs effortlessly from. The tennis champ was a teenage sensation from the off, winning his first grand slam–the French Open–at just 17 in 1974. 1976 saw Borg began his five-year streak of Wimbledon men’s singles titles, while ’78 saw him crowned World Number One—all before the guy was 26.
Sweden’s newest national hero ascended to the top of tennis doing so in a pair of Italian shoes that’d soon become an icon in their own right: the Diadora B. Elite. His rapid ascent powered by his aggressive and awe-inspiring style of play earned him instant star power and helped change the way tennis was perceived around the world. But this was only one side to the story. His on- and off-court sense of style was simultaneously changing the way men perceived themselves and how they could dress.
In pinstripe Italian polo shirts and shorts, sweatband and Scandinavian locks, all pulled together with ice white low profile sneaks, Borg’s ‘fit entered the living rooms of millions around the world through color TV sets. But his impact was perhaps greatest in three countries: his native Sweden, Italy, and, due to his on-court Wimbledon antics, that of drab, late ’70s Great Britain. His off-court dress sense, captured in full view of adoring press photographers, seamlessly transferred athletic training gear—think track jackets, polo shirts, Diadora sneakers—out onto the street for a casual yet suave and continental look. This was something that hadn’t really been seen before, with menswear stylistic references moving away from just pure tailoring to combine American workwear as seen in the ’60s now with European clothes originally designed and made for athletes.
Here are three moments that prove why Björn Borg had such an influence on men’s fashion.
Moment One: The Elegant and Beautiful Sport
In 1980, Borg was back at Wimbledon facing off with American John McEnroe in a final that was to become known as one of the greatest matches of the sport. As Dave Hewitson in thesportsman.com writes, that game was also “a turning point in the counterculture phenomena now known as 80s Casuals.”
“Yes, a game of tennis at Wimbledon was to inspire a generation of young upstarts and its part in the evolution of the High Street needs to be told. By 1980 Liverpool fans had taken it upon themselves to start wearing training shoes on the streets, something unheard of prior to these years. Trainers were for sport, not going to the match or the pub,” he explains.
Diadora’s latest MSGM x DIADORA capsule collection channels this exact moment both in style and cut, as well as the materials used: laminated canvas, triacetate, color block piqué knit, and tennis twill all boldly feature. Similarly, the label’s current crop of B. Elite Heritage sneakers harks back to the era.
While Borg first introduced the B. Elite on court in 1978, the understated style of the classic tennis shoe continues to live on today. As part of Diadora’s 70th anniversary, top-tier Italian retailer Antonia recently re-edited the shoe with Diadora’s iconic logo embroidered as a nod to the headbands and wristbands worn by Borg himself.
“In the 80s, when I was a teenager, I spent hours and hours watching the Wimbledon matches on grass and the rivalry between Borg and McEnroe. Every match lasted 5 hours—they were like heroes,” explains Maurizio Purificato, Antonia Boutique’s co-founder. “Certainly the B. Elite had the same impact in Italy, which is why we chose the graphics and colors of the B.Borg band and cuff to reinterpret the Diadora’s logo in a modern and timely way, yet one still steeped in the traditions and history of tennis.”
Moment Two: From Court to Casual
The looks and ‘fits of football casual subculture, through the adventures and antics of Scottish and English football fans venturing across continental Europe to watch their teams play, has become one of the key aesthetic pillars in British menswear. The combination of Italian athleticwear with a British view of southern European style continues to live on today in British streetwear and skate labels. Think bucket hats, Harrington jackets, short shorts, collared tees or polo shirts, and, of course, the quintessential and obligatory track jacket like the Diadora Sportswear ‘80s Track Jacket.
Of course, Borg’s influence wasn’t just contained to UK shores but was also very much in his home country across the North Sea.
“We all know Borg very well, not only by his looks but also because of his personality and outstanding talent,” explains John-Ruben Holtback of Swedish contemporary menswear label, L’Homme Rouge. “The guy also retired at just 26! All of this obviously contributes to his super-star status even though he was a quiet type—something that most Swedes would relate to. So take all of those factors and combine it with a strong ’70s look and I promise you he’s a guy who we look up to and reference. Why wouldn’t you want to be in Borg shoes?”
Moment Three: Street to High Fashion Culture
These looks are once again on the up. Sometimes labelled as ‘athleisure’, the style that Borg pioneered in the late ’70s is now being reinterpreted once again by contemporary designers and labels thanks, in part, to a resurgence of sportswear looks driven by the designers of the former USSR and Eastern Europe.
Throw into the mix major luxe Italian labels reinterpreting the same era but with a sun-kissed Balearic vibe, or Diadora’s own ‘80s Track Jacket, track pants, and logo t-shirts that have recently been released by the Italian label, and suddenly you’ve got to start asking the question: just how much does modern men’s fashion owe to that Borg’s era and the sport? The answer is a lot.
Dress like Björn Borg even more. Take a look at Diadora’s new sneaker releases, inspired by the era and retooled for 2018, below.
- Illustrations: Franziska Schütz