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Quiet rebellion against Wimbledon's clothing restrictions

At times, Roger Federer has seemed annoyed with Wimbledon's strict dress code. Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

LONDON -- With or without their clothes on, it's the Swiss who are leading a quiet rebellion in tennis fashion. What can Stan Wawrinka and Roger Federer possibly be rebelling against? Only taste, decency and the All England Club's "ridiculously strict" almost-all-white clothing rules.

Fresh from winning Roland Garros in his iconic, multi-colored plaid shorts, which pushed the boundaries of what's acceptable in men's tennis, Wawrinka has appeared in ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue, posing naked with his vaunted one-handed backhand. The shorts he wore in Paris are, of course, on the banned list at Wimbledon; they're about as welcome inside the grounds as selfie-sticks or klaxons. The All England Club will pour concrete over the grass before they allow someone to compete on Centre Court wearing what look suspiciously like a pair of boxer shorts.

At Wimbledon, Wawrinka is wearing white shorts, just like everyone else, and he isn't fussed. "I'm good with the history of Wimbledon playing all white," he said. "For sure you cannot have too much color at all. But I'm OK. I don't mind."

That other Swiss fashion rebel, Federer, suggested recently that the regulations at The Championships have become too restrictive. It was last summer that the players were informed, via the competitors' guide, that the rules had been tightened. They must wear "suitable tennis attire that is almost entirely white." But there are other stipulations.

For instance, only a centimeter-wide trim of color is permitted, and the almost-all-white ruling also applies, along with every other item of clothing, to "any undergarments that either are or can be visible during play [including those that show up as a result of perspiration].

"The rules have become ridiculously strict. I love Wimbledon, but they have gone too far," Federer said during Roland Garros.

After his opening-round victory against Bosnian Damir Dzumhur on Tuesday, he was more conciliatory, saying: "I like to wear white here, so it's all good. It's all I know here."

But haven't those restrictions given the players and their clothing suppliers something to push and rebel against, and therefore encouraged creativity? Wearing white doesn't mean that your clothes are bleached of all personality.

At the other three majors, anything goes (at least in so far as you can wear any color you choose). At Wimbledon, you have to find a way of making some impact and yet staying within the rules. Without the fashion rulebook, and the need to be creative, we would probably have never seen Federer's walk-on outfits of Wimbledons past with his blazers, cardigans and flannel trousers evoking comparisons with the style of The Great Gatsby or Brideshead Revisited.

Perhaps he has toned it down in recent years, and this summer he has a more conventional tracksuit top over the collarless T-shirt he competes in. But there was once a time when Federer's clothes at Wimbledon were the closest that tennis ever came to haute couture.

Maria Sharapova's clothes haven't been far off, either. In the past, Sharapova has worn an outfit inspired by a swan, as well as a tuxedo top and shorts, though this year she is wearing a more classic dress. Clothes are cleared -- or not -- in advance.

"I find it really special that you have this rule and then you have to stick to it," Sharapova told ESPN.com. "There are occasional details that when I'm working with Nike we want to add -- so like a different colored ribbon or maybe a stitching in a different color -- and you know you're pushing the boundaries a little bit.

"And you kind of get a no reply. And you're thinking, 'I thought that was a really good detail.' Because even though it's all in white, you want some details to pop, maybe that's the seams or the details on the back. So that's always the most challenging. You can only work with so many shapes with the white. So that's what we try to push with the materials, maybe with a mesh or with a bit of a see-through effect. As far as color goes, that's pretty strict."

Of course, it's not the first summer Wimbledon's clothing rules have provided an opportunity for quiet rebellion. Spool back to the time when Andre Agassi skipped a few Wimbledons, partly because he didn't like being told that he had to wear white. Then, one summer, he made his return and it felt as though he was teasing the tournament referee and other officials as he peeled off his tracksuit for his first match.

Caroline Wozniacki, a former world No. 1, is wearing an Adidas creation designed by Stella McCartney, which incorporates mesh and gold trim.

Two players who have done more than most to innovate are a couple of American women, Venus Williams and Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Williams, who has her own fashion label called EleVen, and who this year is wearing a dress taken from her "Fleur du Monde" summer collection, told ESPN.com recently: "Tennis style is probably never going to be on runways, but that doesn't mean it can't be exciting as well."

Williams once wore a toga-style dress at Wimbledon, while her younger sister, Serena, had a walk-on trench coat one summer, though she removed it after making her entrance.

Serena, whose dress this summer has an animal print across the midriff, likes the all-white clothing rule.

"This is another thing that I think makes Wimbledon really unique, that they have a rule about the attire," Serena said. "At The Open in New York, can you imagine them saying, "You can't wear that." It would be kind of weird. It works well here. As a club member, when you come to play here, you have to wear white. They want everyone else to, too. I think it's unique, and beautiful to see white against the grass. I think it makes for great photos."

The most creative of all players is Mattek-Sands, who, in partnership with Czech Lucie Safarova, is halfway to winning a calendar-year doubles Grand Slam. During Mattek-Sands' career across the tennis map, she has dressed herself in some outlandish outfits, including cheetah print, though here in London, she is probably best known for wearing knee-high socks.

"It's a huge compliment that people have called me the Lady Gaga of tennis," Mattek-Sands once said. "I really like color, and that's tough when you get to Wimbledon, as you have to work within it. So Wimbledon's the toughest one to dress for as I'm a very colorful person. You have to be creative. So one year, I cut the sleeve off my outfit so you could see my tattoo."

That was her quiet rebellion. There will be others, this year and in summers to come.