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Uni Watch's Friday Flashback: A colorful tennis scandal

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All white attire, even underwear (1:40)

Uni Watch's Paul Lukas discusses Wimbledon's famously strict dress code. (1:40)

This year's Wimbledon tennis tournament hadn't even started when the first clothing controversy erupted.

It began early last week, during the qualifying rounds leading up to the tourney, when several Nike-outfitted female players wore wispy dresses that looked a lot like nighties. Nike reportedly had about 20 players return the dresses for alterations before the tournament started, but early-round matches still showed the dress design not leaving much to the imagination, and several players weren't happy with it.

Apparel scandals are nothing new at Wimbledon, whose infamous dress code almost dares players and their outfitters to push the envelope to get attention. By this point the annual dust-ups over this player's underwear or that one's headband almost seem like a choreographed dance.

The most notable aspect of the Wimbledon dress code, of course, is that all the players must wear white. "That dates back to the late 1800s, when it was considered unseemly for women to perspire, and they didn't want women to have big, visible sweat stains," said Karin Burgess, editor of the tennis fashion website Tennis Identity. "Then the men started wearing white for the same reason, and it became the rule."

Interestingly, if you look through the Wimbledon photo archives, you can see lots of players violating the all-white rule. So was the dress code less stringently enforced at certain points?

"I think there are a lot of violations that we don't know about, where the player is basically told, behind the scenes, 'You can't wear that' or 'Don't wear that again,'" said Burgess.

With that in mind, here's a selective timeline of notable moments in frowned-upon Wimbledon attire. Some were cited as official dress-code violations; others just raised people's eyebrows (and maybe their blood pressure).

1920s: Suzanne Lenglen creates a sensation by playing in sleeveless tops, which are unheard of for women at the time. People also mutter about her orange headband.

1949: Gussie Moran almost causes an international incident by wearing a short skirt that exposes her lace undies on the court. The Earth wobbles slightly on its axis but somehow manages to keep spinning.

1958: Another underwear scandal, this time involving Karol Fageros, who has the temerity to wear gold lamé undies on the court. Tournament officials ban her from match play until she switches to white.

1972: Rosemary Casals wears a purple-and-white designer dress that is judged to be in violation of Wimbledon's dress code, and she's forced to change into plain white attire.

1979: Linda Siegel sets the Wimbledon record for the most cleavage displayed on the court, thanks to a low-cut dress. She loses in the first round to Billie Jean King, thereby sparing tournament officials the trouble of telling her to wear something more appropriate for her next match.

1985: Anne White lives up to her surname by wearing a solid-white bodysuit (and a purple headband for good measure), which is technically within the rules but is nonetheless viewed as a serious breach of protocol. When her first-round match against Pam Shriver is suspended due to darkness, chair umpire Alan Mills instructs White to wear something more suitable when the match resumes the next day. She complies -- and loses.

1988-91: Andre Agassi, whose style doesn't quite fit the Wimbledon mindset, skips the Championships for three years, publicly stating that the tournament's dress code is too stodgy for him. (He relents in 1991 and wears the requisite white, then wins the tournament in 1992.)

2007: Tatiana Golovin dares to wear red underwear, prompting much consternation and debate. But since her undies don't extend below the bottom of her skirt, they are grudgingly deemed acceptable.

2012: Radek Stepanek arrives at Centre Court for his third-round match against Novak Djokovic and is promptly told that his sneakers -- a mix of red, white and blue -- will have to be changed before he can play.

2013: Roger Federer wears orange-soled Nike sneakers for his first-round match. Tournament officials, apparently looking to set a new standard for pettiness, rule the orange soles to be a dress-code violation, so Federer switches to a white-soled design for the rest of the tournament. Naturally, this prompts a sales run on the orange-soled model, which was probably what Nike had in mind all along.

2015: The policing of Wimbledon apparel reaches its logical apotheosis, as Nick Kyrgios receives a citation for wearing -- wait for it -- an official green-and-purple Wimbledon headband on the court. Play resumes after Kyrgios obligingly turns the headband inside out, revealing its white underside.

And so on. Those last few incidents reached such absurdist heights of self-parody that the question has to be asked: Is it time for players to stage some sort of color-saturated revolt just to save Wimbledon from itself? It may sound far-fetched, but think about it: If most of the players showed up in non-white outfits, it's not as though the higher-ups would just cancel the tournament, right? They'd have little choice but to give in.

It seems possible -- maybe even probable -- that Nike and the other outfitters are already planning for such a scenario. Imagine it: Color Rush at the Championships.


Would you like to nominate a uniform or uni element to be showcased in a future Friday Flashback installment? Send your suggestions here.

Paul Lukas never wears white, because he knows he'd end up with a pizza sauce stain inside of five minutes. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted or just ask him a question? Contact him here.