Rafael Nadal may have bested Roger Federer at Wimbledon, but the defeated, in classic tennis apparel, outclassed the victor, who went slumming in a sleeveless, collarless muscle shirt. Ready for a body slam, not a Grand Slam, all that Nadal was lacked was some visible tattoos.
The visual contrast of these two players reminded Izzy of an excellent, if little known, book on the history of tennis: Sporting Gentlemen: Men’s Tennis from the Age of Honor to the Cult of the Superstar. Written by E. Digby Baltzell, the sociologist who both coined the term “WASP” and taxonomized that species, the book discusses the decline of tennis from a game of amateur sportsmen upholding an aristocratic code of honor (e.g., the unwritten rule that close calls go to your opponent) into a mercenary high-stakes sport in which players throw temper tantrums on the court. In the modern era, Arthur Ashe epitomized the old ideal, while John McEnroe represented all that was rotten. Sartorially at least, Nadal rejects the gentlemanly tradition.
Federer’s white polo shirt, interestingly, traces back to the French tennis player René Lacoste himself. According to Wikipedia:
While winning the 1927 U.S. Open championship, René Lacoste of France wore something that he himself had created: a white, short-sleeve shirt made exclusively of a light knitted fabric called “jersey petit piqué” that served to wick away moisture due to heat, the very first version of performance clothing in sports. The shirt was a radical departure from tennis fashion of the day, which called for stiff, woven, long-sleeve oxfords. In 1923 during the Davis Cup, the American press nicknamed Lacoste “the Alligator” because of a bet made about an alligator-skin suitcase. With no cognate in his native tongue, the nickname was changed to le crocodile in French. The nickname stuck due to his tenacious behavior on the courts, never giving up his prey. Lacoste’s friend, Robert George, drew him a crocodile which Lacoste then embroidered on the blazer he wore on the courts.
Once he retired from the sport, Lacoste went into the shirt business, savvily putting a crocodile logo on the shirt’s breast—the first time a trademark was placed on the exterior of clothing. If that wasn’t the Mark of the Beast, Izzy doesn’t know what is.