WIMBLEDON, England — For the female tennis players wearing Nike at Wimbledon, one style did not fit all.
Instead of the typical outfits Nike offers most players who are paid to wear its apparel, the company issued a loosely hanging, short dress. It was white, in accordance with Wimbledon’s dress code. But it was not exactly performance gear, according to several players. Wardrobe changes have ensued.
“When I was serving, it was coming up, and I felt like the dress was just everywhere,” said Rebecca Peterson of Sweden. “In general, it’s quite simple, the dress, but it was flying everywhere.”
Katie Boulter improvised by tying a headband around her waist to serve as a belt, which held the fabric somewhat more in place. Lucie Hradecka wore leggings underneath the dress, effectively turning it into a shirt.
Hradecka’s coach, Jiri Fencl, said Hradecka had felt cold in the cool English summer with only the light dress on, and had expressed some concerns about playing in the dress instead of her normal, more form-fitting competition apparel, especially given her two-handed groundstrokes and the crouching she does in doubles.
“That was the first dress she ever tried on in practice,” Fencl said. “She saw it was very short and that it flies, so she was trying it. Sometimes, with two hands you can grab the dress if it flies a lot. I think every player was like, ‘Hmm, that’s short.’ She was worried about it in doubles, too, because when you get up from I-formation, you can grab it.”
This was not what Nike had in mind. In a news release distributed before the tournament, the company touted the dress: “NikeCourt female team athletes will compete in the one-piece NikeCourt Premier Slam Dress, which represents a departure from the skirt-top combinations worn in previous Grand Slams.” The release said: “Despite the traditional aesthetic, the dress features modern design elements such as power pleats and racerback construction, which work in tandem to enable the athlete’s movement.”
But once put to the test during qualifying last week, the dress quickly proved problematic. It was largely shapeless, with long fabric hanging freely in the front and back. It most resembled the “babydoll” style, developed in 1942 by the New York designer Sylvia Pedlar to cope with wartime fabric shortages — and is more commonly associated with lingerie and sleepwear than athletic performance.
Before qualifying had ended, The Daily Mail reported that Nike had sent its players a message marked “VERY important” asking players to bring their dresses in for “a small change to your dresses per Wimbledon rules.”
While the dresses were not lengthened, the slits on each side were sewn up by a Nike tailor, making the light fabric of the dress somewhat steadier and less prone to flying up as far during play.
Nike disputed the directive being characterized as a recall. “The product has not been recalled and we often customize products and make alterations for athletes as they compete,” a Nike spokesman said. “We work closely with our athletes to provide them with product that helps them perform and feel their best on the court.”
The All-England Club said the dress had been approved for wear at Wimbledon before its last-minute alterations because it passed both the tournament’s strict criteria for complete whiteness as well as a decency test to check that it wasn’t too revealing.
Aside from the mandatory fixes made to the dress, Nike also offered its players the option of wearing a more traditional skirt and top combination. There were several takers.
“It was too short I think, and now we have a skirt and normal shirt,” said Roberta Vinci, a veteran player who said she had never had such a last-minute change from an apparel maker. “Nice and comfortable, and everything is now going to be O.K. for the players, I think.”
Daria Kasatkina quickly opted for the switch as well.
“I’m really happy that I have this opportunity, because if you feel good on the court you can play better,” Kasatkina said. “If something is bothering you all the time, no. I tried the dress during a practice, and I didn’t like it so much. It was always going up, so you can see the stomach, everything. It’s not very nice.”
Sabine Lisicki, a 2013 Wimbledon finalist, also switched to the skirt and top, echoing that comfort on court was most important.
“I didn’t feel comfortable showing that much,” Lisicki said, laughing.
Samantha Crawford, who is 6 feet 2 inches, also made the switch, saying she had not worn tennis dresses on court in several years because she thinks they rarely suit a player of her height.
“It looks cute on a lot of the girls — I saw Lauren Davis wearing it and it looks really cute,” Crawford said of Davis, who is 5 feet 2. “But I’m really tall, so I have that problem with every dress I try on.”
Some players raved about the dress. Maria Sakkari wore it unaltered for her first two qualifying matches and has since worn it with the additional tailoring in two wins. She said it was one of her favorite tennis outfits.
“I think it’s a very pretty dress, and I think that it’s very feminine,” Sakkari said. “It’s very comfortable.”
Eugenie Bouchard, a 2014 Wimbledon finalist, was the player used to model the dress in Nike promotional materials. She defended the design, and said she had enjoyed it when she first wore it months earlier.
“For me, I love it,” Bouchard told the network TSN. “It’s nice and short so you can move around and be free with your movements. Yeah, I don’t know. It’s funny that people paid a lot of attention to it, but I really think it’s really nice.”
One Nike-sponsored player not affected by the dress design was Serena Williams. Nike provides unique outfits for her.