It’s hard to remember a time when Wimbledon’s umpires, linesmen, ball girls, and ball boys weren’t wearing Ralph Lauren. Like strawberries and cream, Henman Hill, and an ice-cold cup of Pimms, one struggles to picture Wimbledon without Ralph Lauren’s official styling. Yet — a testament to Lauren’s visual language and mastery — the brand has only been outfitting the world’s oldest tennis tournament since 2006 when the All England Lawn Tennis Club made it the first clothing brand to be exclusively associated with the tournament.
It was no simple feat for Ralph Lauren to transform Wimbledon’s uniforms. The Championship, as it’s more formally known, has a famously strict dress code. While spectators have a little more freedom, competitors practicing or playing a match must be dressed almost entirely in white from the moment they step out onto the court. “White” does not include off-white or cream and the rules cover everything from shirts and dresses to caps, shoes, undergarments, and even medical supports and equipment. While color trims are permitted, they can be no wider than 1cm.
Until 2006, the uniforms of on-court officials were equally limited, and certainly not stylish. Wimbledon’s signature green and purple colors stood out but the palette was predominantly functional, helping officials blend in with their surroundings and not distract players.
Ever the rule-breaker, Ralph Lauren fought to make navy blue the uniform’s primary color instead, with green and purple adorning the trimmings, logos, and ties. Umpires continue to wear sleek suiting while ball girls and boys wear the classic Ralph Lauren Polo, also in navy. In comparison to the old uniforms, Ralph Lauren’s designs give officials a greater sense of identity. Lauren, in fact, wanted to dress them in all-white like the players, but this was deemed too distracting.
Lauren has done much the same for Wimbledon as he did for the American wardrobe. Noah founder Brendon Babenzian explains that Ralph Lauren captured the American identity and expanded on it: “There was the reality of prep style, and then there was Ralph’s version, which was suped-up. More interesting, and more fun.” Similarly, Lauren took the rather plain and purely practical uniforms of Wimbledon’s officials and made them exciting, a talking point even. In place of American identity, Lauren — admittedly obsessed with English culture — drew upon archival photos of Oxford and Cambridge University students playing the lawn sport. And, of course, it wasn’t the first time the designer had reimagine a quintessentially British sport — the primary difference being that the first time around he named his brand after it.
Ralph Lauren’s involvement in Wimbledon has meant on-court officials now look as suave as some of the tournament’s high-profile spectators, bringing a whole new dimension to its fashions. It’s an effect Ralph Lauren has had time and time again on the way various cultures dress, from Ivy League schools to the streets of Brooklyn. And while Lauren has been ever-present for the last 50 years, its impact is being felt particularly strongly again today as streetwear continues to mature and preppiness regains relevance — evidenced by the slow return of the suit and growing interest in Ralph Lauren-inspired brands such as Rowing Blazers.
For this year’s Wimbledon, Ralph Lauren serves up another ace with pinstriped navy blazers, wide-leg trousers, and bias-cut skirts for the umpires. Ball girls and boys are kitted out in navy, green, and purple uniforms made using high-performance, sporty-stretch, and moisture-wicking fabrics. Off the court, a Wimbledon apparel collection for men, women, and children includes a windbreaker, Polo shirt, fleece sweater, and traditional tennis whites. Exclusively at The Polo Custom Shop at Polo Ralph Lauren’s flagship on Regent Street and through Ralph Lauren’s Website, customers can personalize the classic Polo shirt with Wimbledon-inspired graphics such as the iconic Polo Bear dressed for Wimbledon. Beyond the wardrobe, Ralph’s Coffee & Bar will open for the duration of The Championship with a dedicated Wimbledon menu and an online game named “Playfully Wimbledon” is available to play online.
To celebrate 13 years of Ralph Lauren at Wimbledon, our photo editorial shot by photographer Louis Bever presents a modern interpretation of tennis styling. Shop the new collection featured in the shoot over at ralphlauren.co.uk.