It’s an anxiety most women are familiar with — avoiding white attire during your period. But female tennis players competing at Wimbledon have historically been denied the freedom to wear anything other.
As it’s laid out on the official tournament website, “Competitors must be dressed in suitable tennis attire that is almost entirely white and this applies from the point at which the player enters the court surround.”
The clothing refers to all clothing, including tracksuits and sweaters, worn on tournament courts both during practice and for matches. “White does not include off white or cream,” the rule continues.
“There should be no solid mass or panel of colouring. A single trim of colour around the neckline and around the cuff of the sleeves is acceptable but must be no wider than one centimetre (10mm).” (In 2013, former World No. 1, Roger Federer was told by Wimbledon officials to stop wearing his Nike shoes that had orange soles).
But these rules have come under even fiercer scrutiny and collective criticism this year, with several high profile tennis players and commentators speaking out against the barriers they place on women.
Last week, British player Alicia Barnett gave an interview with the British PA news agency where she revealed the mental toll of sticking to the only-whites rule while managing the symptoms that menstruation has on her performance.
“I do think some traditions could be changed. I, for one, am a massive advocate for women’s rights and I think having this discussion is just amazing, that people are now talking about it,” Barnett said.
“Personally, I love the tradition of all-whites and I think we will handle it pretty well. I think being on your period on the tour is hard enough, but to wear whites as well isn’t easy.”
“Your body feels looser, your tendons get looser, sometimes you feel like you’re a lot more fatigued, sometimes your coordination just feels really off, and for me I feel really down and it’s hard to get that motivation.”
“Why do we need to be shy about talking about it?”
“Obviously, you’re trying to play world-class tennis but it’s really hard when you’re PMS-ing and you feel bloated and tired.”
World No. 627, Australian player Daria Saville, pitched in with her own concerns over the rule, telling The Daily Aus this week that she had skipped her period while on tour as she was afraid she would bleed through her whites.
“Recently just being at Wimbledon, I was talking with my friend saying that I love the all-white look, but then a few girls said they hate it because it sucks to wear all white while being on your period,” Saville told The Daily Aus.
“It’s true, I myself had to skip my period around Wimbledon for the reason that I didn’t want to worry about bleeding through. We already have enough stress.”
Overnight, Saville commented on a post related to her interview, adding another experience she had to endure at the Australian Open where she got her period during a match.
“One time I got a period mid-match,” she wrote. “I went to the bathroom and then was like oh surprise. We are only allowed two toilet breaks during the match.”
“Thank god I had a female umpire. I explained to her what is happening and then I waited for someone to bring me a tampon because I didn’t have any.”
“It was also 38 degrees on that day, that’s why I said it sucks to be a girl sometimes.”
After her fourth round loss at this year’s French Open, 19-year old Chinese player Zheng Qinwen revealed she had suffered menstrual cramps during her match.
“It’s just girls’ things, you know,” she told reporters. “The first day is always so tough and then I have to do sport and I always have so much pain in the first day. And I couldn’t go against my nature.”
“I wish I can be a man on court, but I cannot in that moment…I really wish I can be (a) man (so) that I don’t have to suffer from this.”
Former Australian tennis player Rennae Stubbs revealed to Just Women’s Sports that the all-white clothing rule had been a frequent topic of discussion among female players in locker rooms.
“At Wimbledon, you’re very cognisant of making sure that everything’s ‘good to go’ the moment you walk on the court — making sure that you have a tampon,” she said.
“It might have been the one time that I actually left the court at Wimbledon, when I did have my period. The match went three sets and I had to go off and change,” she added, referring to one of her two doubles championships at the All England Club in 2001 and 2004.
Commentator and podcast host, Catherine Whitaker likewise condemned the all-white dress code.
“I would like to see it change,” the host of ‘The Tennis Podcast’ told The Telegraph. “If they had a clothing policy that affected men in the way that it does women, I don’t think that particular tradition would last.”
“I cannot imagine going into the biggest day of my life, with my period, and being forced to wear white.”
These latest series of outcries come after Puerto Rican player Monica Puig’s response to Tennis commentator David Law’s tweet in May, where the 48-year old said he has been in tennis for more than a quarter of a century and has never thought about the consequences of menstruation.
“Definitely something that affects female athletes!” Puig wrote. “Finally bringing it to everyone’s attention! Not to mention the mental stress of having to wear all white at Wimbledon and praying not to have your period during those two weeks.”
“Tennis and squash attire including tracksuits must be basically white.”
“Only shoes designed specifically for tennis may be worn on the tennis courts. Shoes should be basically white with a non-marking sole.”