Wimbledon Fashions Take on New Colors

Wimbledon is the epicenter of understated English elegance. The spectators eat strawberries and cream and the players wear all white. Wimbledon isn't just a tennis club. They also play croquet here.

But this year, there's a visual twist on the manicured turf, which, in the history of Wimbledon, amounts to a revolution.

Ralph Lauren has signed a five-year deal to clothe Wimbledon's bit players: the ball boys and girls, the line judges and the umpires. The boys and girls are in dark blue, with the more senior officials in navy blazers with white piping, and subtle blue-and-white-striped shirts with white collars.

"This is the most exciting fashion show we've ever had," Ralph's son David commented after the officials made their debut.

The last time a Brit won the men's singles was back in 1936. Americans have won 26 titles since then. And now, an American designer is telling the Brits how to dress.

Well, it's not quite that simple.

"Ralph Lauren's style is based on England," said Hilary Alexander, fashion editor of London's Daily Telegraph newspaper. "It all kind of starts right here in London and the shires, the stately homes -- it's totally and utterly British to the core."

So, Ralph Lauren is exporting English style back to the English? "Like coals to Newcastle," explained Alexander. That would be the British equivalent of "car parts to Detroit."

For years, Wimbledon officials wore ill-fitting green blazers, nasty slacks and purple and green ties. The designer: unknown. No one complained, but no one is sad to see the old clothes go, either.

"I think it's lovely. It's lovely to have a change from the old uniform," one line judge said.

Another could barely disguise her glee at her new designer work clothes.

"What strikes you when you touch it for the first time," she cooed. "You touch…it's just, ohhhh, like cream in your hands."

And what about the players? Andre Agassi said he'd have to reserve judgement until after his first match. Young and stylish Roger Federer is already a fan. "A bit of fashion does good to the All England Club," he said after practice.

As Federer strode onto court today to begin the defense of his title, he wore a natty cream blazer. He's getting into the spirit of things.

Could the new threads be a distraction?

"We have to try to keep the eyes on the court and not on the linesmen," former champ Martina Hingis told us. She thinks she can handle it. "I think I can stick the eyes to the ball, yes."

While officials enjoy their makeover, players have been warned for the umpteenth time: "appear on court dressed in a manner deemed unsuitable by the committee" and you're out.

"Tennis needs a little bit of a lift every now and then, and I think it's nice to see a bit of tanned cleavage. It's quite cute to see frilly knickers," said style guru Hilary Alexander. "I don't think that hurts. As long as it's white."

Andre Agassi boycotted Wimbledon for three years early in his career because he couldn't bear to ditch his garish threads. He eventually caved and won here in 1992 wearing all white. But he still looked like Farrah Fawcett from the neck up.

"The interesting thing with Wimbledon is that balance between tradition and innovation," the All England Club's CEO Ian Ritchie explained. "I think if we say we'll stay with tradition for the sake of it, we'll fall behind, we'll be old-fashioned."

One thing he described as sacrosanct is the green grass of Wimbledon. They'll never use artificial turf, Ritchie insisted.

The officials' uniforms were not as sacred. And neither are the regular rain delays. They're building a roof over Centre Court that will be ready in time for Wimbledon 2009. There's been a drought in England for a few weeks.

But on today, as the tournament began, it poured with rain. Wimbledon is a place of tradition.