Another off-color fashion statement would dress up modest Wimbledon

OTHER VOICES

June 28, 2005|By David Whitley

IF YOU REALLY want to generate attention, it's always a good sign when somebody complains about sin and vulgarity.

In honor of both, let's pause for a moment of remembrance. It was 20 years ago yesterday they made an appearance at Wimbledon.

"It certainly caught everyone's eye," tennis historian Frank Phelps said.

It was a body suit worn by Anne White, though "body suit" hardly does it justice. The Lycra getup looked as if it came right out of Catwoman's closet.

In keeping with Wimbledon tradition, it was all white. And in keeping with Wimbledon tradition, the old blokes who run the place spit up their strawberries and cream.

With that in mind, we cast a longing eye today toward London. We're halfway through the fortnight, which for those of you who don't speak Wimbledon means there's one week to go.

The question is, do you care? You might if Andy Roddick makes the final. Or Maria Sharapova keeps looking like Maria Sharapova. Otherwise, the average American sports fan can't tell their Mauresmos from their Ferreros and really doesn't want to try.

So how can the world's greatest tennis tournament regrab the world's attention? These days, nothing sells like a scandal. And when it comes to scandalous, nothing sells at Wimbledon like a risque fashion statement.

Some members still haven't gotten over May Sutton, who rolled up her sleeves and showed a little too much wrist in 1905. The Royal Box was really rocked in 1949, when Gertrude Moran showed up wearing what were called - and parents, you might want to send your kids out of the room for a minute - lace panties.

"Now that was a real shocker," said Phelps, who has written a book on the history of lawn tennis.

The outfit was actually a short tennis dress with ruffled knickers peeping out below the hem. It was designed by Ted Tinling, who was confronted by a member of the All-England Club.

"You have put sin and vulgarity into tennis!" he said.

Hopefully, he didn't live long enough to hear John McEnroe dispute a line call. Now there was a guy who knew how to scandalize.

Wimbledon slowly accepted the fact it was hard for women to play in hoop skirts while holding umbrellas. Even the queen started showing a little skin. That still didn't prepare it for June 27, 1985.

White was a largely unknown Californian. She showed up for a match against Pam Shriver wearing her usual warmups. When it came time to play, she set Wimbledon sensibilities back 100 years.

White believed the cat suit would be more functional, and it actually showed less skin than the usual tennis skirt. It wasn't so much what it didn't show. It was how the spandex didn't show it.

The match was stopped after two sets for darkness, and referee Alan Mills escorted White off the court and had her shot. No, he told her not to show her backhand in that outfit again.

The incident made headlines around the world then, so you can imagine what it would have done in today's media environment. Greta Van Susteren would leave Aruba to interview fashion-industry lawyers in London. Millions would vote on ESPN.com's instant poll asking who would you rather see in Lycra - White or Danica Patrick? It would be just the thing to get Wimbledon back on the front page ahead of NASCAR.

Look, we're not saying Roddick should go completely McEnroe on a line judge, much less wear lace panties.

But Sharapova in a cat suit? That kind of sin and vulgarity probably couldn't hurt.

David Whitley is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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