There’s an image from 1910 of Maurice McLaughlin and A.V. Duncan at the All England Tennis Club, about to compete in that year’s Davis Cup Championship. The image encapsulates tennis’ place as the ne plus ultra of stylish sports. Both are wearing ankle length trench coats, double-breasted, military style behemoths that verge on the absurd considering this is a summer sport. On court, the men would typically be wearing something similar to cricket whites. A long-sleeved white shirt, white flannels, white brogued trainers and a coloured stable belt or regimental/club tie around the waist. Womenswear was almost as impractical as the trench coats with long, heavy skirts, though they did show up the men by wearing a tie. White was for propriety’s sake, as it would’nt show sweat. Roger Federer has said that he feels today’s rules for players are “too strict”, but considering he frequently sports an elegant cream blazer or cardigan following victories, I am not convinced he doesn’t relish the chance to smarten up.
Spectators would be wearing all manner of headgear from boaters, homburgs and bowler hats, typically in suits or blazers and flannel trousers. Those were the days. The Championships, Wimbledon, also played at the AETC, is the final bastion of the sport where you’d see anything close to that. Though the rules for spectators have been relaxed to ‘please dress smartly’ so ripped jeans or short in some quarters are not permissible, the Royal Box has thankfully seen fit to remember what’s important, being properly dressed, though hats are no longer permitted. Lewis Hamilton was given short shrift for not meeting the strict codes that govern who may enter there.
This year there will be predictable A*s for presentation from members of the Royal Family, senior ranks in the British Army and frequent flyers like David Beckham. 2016 Bradley Cooper was the best Bradley Cooper showing, and consistently makes the customarily well-turned out Brits like Eddie Redmayne, Benedict Cumberbatch and Hugh Grant seem ordinary. Though this is not to discourage any effort on their behalf, and after all, the summer is a dreadful time to be formal, even in the UK.
By and large, smart clothes are made from wool, and hot summer months and wool aren’t the best of bedfellows. Try as they might, there is acknowledgement from tailors and weavers that truly breathable wool is still beyond reach. Tom Ford decreed that shorts should only be worn on the tennis court or at the beach, and he is probably right. So it is important to get a grip on the sartorial side of things when the occasion calls, with the caveat that fainting is pretty inelegant so steps should be taken to avoid. The summer is full of Britain’s most style-conscious dates in the social calendar.
Summer dress should be exactly as the season suggests, light, bright, displaying a full colour palette, and fun. Anywhere from Wimbledon, Henley, Cartier polo or garden parties are more open to interpretation than the strict dress codes of Ascot’s Royal Enclosure, so take advantage. Pinks and bright reds have become a bit cliché, but louder hues like green, blue, cream and of course, white, can all be part of ensembles that compliment the lusciousness that defines the English summer.
The foundation is the jacket. You cannot really go wrong with navy blue, as it juxtaposes nimbly with a bright pair of trousers, pocket-square or tie. Then again the reverse – a cream jacket with navy chinos, or lightweight flannels for example – adhere perfectly to the occasions. Henley is known for patterns so if you feel like getting into the risqué spirit of things, an unlined jacket with a bold check or stripe would work perfectly, match with a shirt with a button down collar, knitted tie and chino and you will not be found wanting. Trousers are having a bit of a comeback so you can find something that is pleated, ghurka-strapped or flat-fronted in most colours.
Fabric is key too; many people instinctively feel that linen is appropriate for summer because it is lightweight. However, if you want to look smart you could hardly choose a worse fabric. Linen is wont to crumple, crease and isn’t that impressive to look at. Look for high-twist travel fabrics like fresco wool, they have an open weave but will not crease and look fantastic.
Shoes can kill the mood if you get them wrong. Keep them simple; low slung slip-ons, suede or leather, are better than brogues, it also allows for a touch of colour from your socks. Try to match the colour of the socks with your tie or pocket square. You’ll be surprised how much people notice and is a simple, but not garish way to use colour.