Teddy is big but he moves fast. Teddy has the feeling that if he ever slows down, the tennis Establishment will nail him. The Establishment never forgets. It has never forgiven him for the lace panties affair, and everybody knows all that was years ago. Then there was the thing with the peekaboo dress. But Teddy Tinling, who talks like a hot popcorn-popper—maybe faster than any man alive—can explain all that. If Wimbledon will only listen. Listen, Wimbledon:
It all starts with the tournament committee. Solid types. It also all starts with Tinling, now a leading London fashion designer. On one side people insist that the committee is just as dedicated to thwarting the march of tennis fashion as it is to putting on the tournament. On the other side people grimly point out that if such is the case the committee has not had much luck.
This year at Wimbledon, as in the past, many of the women players have been draped, fitted, zipped, snapped and buttoned into Teddy Tinling tennis clothes. The list includes such leading lights as Julie Heldman and Peaches Bartkowicz of the U.S.; Virginia Wade and Ann Jones of Britain; Judy Tegart of Australia; and, in fact, the No. 1 players from about a dozen countries. Tinling figures about two-thirds of the entry list came on wearing his designs. Oh, not everybody. Billie Jean King, for example, just won't. Billie Jean sticks to a workmanlike outfit of knitted shirt and pleated skirt. But almost everybody.
Tinling is the biggest name in his field. He also is the biggest man in his field—6'5" tall. He obviously would stand out in any group this side of the Boston Celtics, but Teddy would be conspicuous at any old height. Tinling was 59 years old on June 23 but he dresses like a mod pop singer 40 years younger. Wild, wide ties, beads, bell-bottoms and all that. No shoulder-length hair, however. All Teddy has left is a thin, light brown monk's fringe just above the ears, but the shining glow on top is more impressive anyway. In fact, the bald head, his towering height, a nose like an ax, bright, pale blue eyes and a verbal delivery create impact. Pop-pop-pop-pop!
July 6, 1969
Teddy Tinling designs create quite an impact, too. Marketed by English Calico, Ltd. of London, they are available all over the world. But where the fashion battle lines are really drawn, so far as Tinling's life has been concerned, are on the green lawns of the All England Club in south London. This is Wimbledon, where white is right. Tinling screams for color in tennis. Wimbledon insists on white. And the clash between Tinling and Wimbledon over who can wear what has created almost as much excitement over the years as five-set finals in center court. The tournament committee looks upon itself as a last bulwark protecting what is left of English good sense and respectability. Teddy Tinling looks upon it as something else entirely.
"So far as fashion is concerned, Wimbledon is an outdated enclave," snorts Tinling. "They are determined on a policy of insularity. They positively don't want to know. But I am not going to hold back the whole world of progress just because of Wimbledon."
In an attempt to shock the tournament committee out of its white rut, Tinling has thrown in a wide arsenal of teasers: lace panties, gold lamé panties, pink panties, pink petticoats, the peekaboo look. The result has often as not simply been a white backlash—with bans on color being instituted in 1949 and again in 1962.
"One year we put a lot of color underneath, and this was the thing that drove them mad because they are so stupidly sensitive about themselves," says Tinling, turning up the heat. "That year, 1962, when Maria Bueno was wearing color on her underpants, they actually built up in their own minds that I had put the All England Club's colors [purple and green] across Bueno's backside as a deliberate insult to them."
One of the reasons behind Tinling's success as a designer is that he was once a pretty fair tennis player himself—he played in the doubles at Wimbledon four times—and he is hip to the requirements of a competitive player. "Teddy's line is so good," says a Wimbledon regular, "because he plays himself and knows how to give freedom without spoiling the appearance of a dress." At any rate, he knows tennis and he knows a good player from a bad player. But from his workshop on the top floor of a huge, dowdy, yellow brick building overlooking a railroad yard that leads out of London to the west, Tinling would much prefer to look back and reminisce about a series of Wimbledons that have nothing to do with service aces, overhead smashes and match points. It is a Wimbledon history that deals with broderie anglaise, mimosa yellow or the cocoon.
Tinling came into tennis through the South of France, not a bad entrance. He was asthmatic as a child, and his parents moved to Nice from London to give the youngest of three boys the benefit of clean air and a warm climate. He spent a good deal of time in bed, privately tutored, but took up tennis at 12 on his doctor's advice that he get some outdoor exercise. He promptly joined the luxury world of the Continental tennis circuit. In 1927 Teddy was invited by Wimbledon to serve during the tournament as the liaison man between the committee and the players. For the next 22 years Tinling served as maitre d'hotel of the center court, escorting the players out of the wings and onto the green lawn stage. In 1931 he moved back to London, became a dress designer and soon was running one of Mayfair's more successful fashion houses.
"At the age of 21 I decided it was time to get down to it," recalls Teddy. "So just like that I said, 'Bingo! I am now a dressmaker.' I had done a great deal of fiddling while I was ill in bed. I had been sewing since I was 3 or 4. I had always had a great deal of interest in it all."
In 1947 central focus at Wimbledon was on Jack Kramer, who destroyed Tom Brown in the men's final 6-1, 6-3, 6-2. Hardly noticed by anyone—well, except all the girl watchers and Teddy Tinling—was a yellow-haired, rosy-complexioned English lass named Joy Gannon. She did not survive the third round. But she was wearing Teddy's first Wimbledon tennis dress.
"This was really a great milestone," Tinling says with unabashed enthusiasm, "because first of all it was my very first Wimbledon dress and secondly because Joy Gannon was so typically English. I decided to put a very small colored hem at the bottom. This was really the beginning of a process which is still reverberating."
The tremors were not really felt, however, until the following year. England's No. 1 player, Betty Hilton, along with Teddy and the girl watchers, also had noticed Joy Gannon's blue and pink hems and asked Teddy to design something similar for the pre-Wimbledon Wightman Cup matches with the U.S.
Teddy did. All was serene until Mrs. Hilton was demolished in her opening match by Louise Brough 6-1, 6-1. According to Tinling, the colored hem was blamed for the crushing defeat. In fact, because she felt so strongly that tennis should be played in an all-white costume, Hazel Wightman, the founder of these matches, asked that Betty give up the further use of color on the hem of her dress. Furious at what he deemed a thwarting of progress as ludicrous as a Danish king's ordering the tide not to come in, Tinling aimed a rapid-fire burst at Mrs. Wightman: "Do you see yourself as a Queen Canute?" he asked.
"It was an unhappy experience for Mrs. Hilton and an unhappy experience for me," says Tinling, "but it set the pattern and we all knew where we stood." Where they stood was with Teddy Tinling and his dresses on one side of the color barrier, the tennis Establishment on the other side. In 1949 girls checking in at the Wimbledon dressing room found a note pinned to one of the shelves simply stating that white would be worn. Result: exit color, enter something far more titillating. That would be Gussie Moran and her lace panties. Tinling vs. Wimbledon Milestone No. 2 had been reached.
"Gussie was a very sexy girl who always played in very tight shorts," Tinling recalls. "As I said at the time, she was, like Lana Turner, a real sweater girl. The fellows used to crawl up the wall with delight when they saw her. A couple of months before the 1949 Wimbledon, Gussie wrote to me demanding color. 'My life is a colorful life,' she said, 'and I've got red Indian blood and I like pink on one side of my hair and blue on the other side and yellow at each bust.' I've often reread the letter since because I've often wondered if I ever believed it. But I knew after the fuss created in 1948 by Betty Hilton's colored hems that we had no chance for color in 1949. We had to search for something else demonstrably feminine."
The search proved to be a smashing success. The 1949 Wimbledon produced Ted Schroeder's exciting five-set finals victory over the Czech refugee, Jaroslav Drobny, and Louise Brough's second consecutive win in the women's singles, but the lace panties that showed in flashes around Gorgeous Gussie's shapely bottom produced just as many thrills. The Duchess of Kent, the All England Club's president, pronounced herself as amused by Gussie's lacy unmentionables. But not the Wimbledon tournament committee. For three years they had stirred uneasily at the sight of the wide, vivid ties that Teddy enjoyed displaying as he performed his duties at center court. The Wimbledon brass also had read with dismay some of the candid articles Tinling wrote for tennis magazines on the subject of women's figures and how to drape them for tennis. Gussie was just too much. Tinling was being vulgar. He was bringing sin into tennis.
At a cocktail party immediately following the tournament Tinling was given a public dressing down by Wimbledon Chairman Sir Louis Gregg and promptly resigned his post with the club. Teddy was through as far as official Wimbledon was concerned—but in fashion he was just reaching his prime. Gussie's lace panties had made Tinling's name as well known in the world of tennis fashion as Christian Dior in the world of haute couture.
Last week Tinling stood at his work-table and looked back at the years since Gussie. He was nostalgic about the many alarums and excursions of the past. He wondered if commercial pressures weren't killing the imagination and freshness of his ideas. Tinling was to play in an important league bowling match that night—he averages 180—and he had a conference scheduled that afternoon with his owners. To deal with both situations he was dressed in a black Dacron shirt, the cuffs folded back over a black cashmere sweater; a trim-fitting pair of houndstooth-checked bell-bottoms; wide, blunt-toed black loafers custom-made in Portugal; and three strings of beads—one in turquoise, two in simulated gold, only partially hidden under a powder blue India silk scarf knotted at the neck.
"Lace panties was a hard act to follow," Tinling declared, fingering his beads and building up to a recollection of Wimbledon Milestone No. 3, "but what we did in 1950 sowed the seeds for my life because it was the first garment we ever exported. Magnin's in California picked it up. It was just a little shirt-and-shorts affair made of a fancy fabric, broderie anglaise, with little patterns cut through it. The United Press fashion girl called it the peekaboo suit, and the name sold it.
"Gussie wore it and Beverly Baker wore it. The big impact was Beverly Baker. She was the first person who was undeniably a good player because the cry before had always been frivolity. Everyone said Gussie was frivolous and that she couldn't play and nobody but a fool would have done that and nobody sensible—a good English word—nobody sensible would have done what Gussie did. Well, Beverly Baker came here and proved that she was sensible and still wore the peekaboo. Even so, they accused her of being indecent. She reached the semifinals."
In 1952 Tinling made it all the way to the winner's circle. But his first Wimbledon winner came from an unexpected quarter. He had been asked by Australian Coach Harry Hopman to design the clothes for the Aussie men's team and Tinling's first winner was Frank Sedgman. But 24 hours later Maureen Connolly won, playing in suitably youthful dresses embroidered with tiny white-on-white kittens and butterflies and poodles. She thus became the designer's first all-victorious female.
"They always had said my girls couldn't play," says Tinling, referring to what seems to have been thought of as no more than a group of racket-swinging models. "I had gone through a great period of sensitivity about these remarks and so my aim was to dress a Wimbledon winner. Maureen was undeniable proof that sensible people could take an interest in pretty clothes."
The 1954 Wimbledon was notable for the fact that Jaroslav Drobny won his first and only major championship and that Maureen Connolly, though still only 19 years old, won her last. Then for Teddy the 1955 Wimbledon was notable for the attainment of two more milestones—No. 5 and No. 6. Milestone No. 5 was the fact that Tinling confounded his most antagonistic critics by doing a superbly dignified job of dressing Doris Hart, a woman Tinling refers to with great affection as "a bastion of tremendous dignity and unimpeachable good taste." To offset the slimness of her figure, Tinling combined a long classic pleated skirt, stretched down tightly over the hips, with something resembling a coachman's revers as part of the blouse. Doris liked it so well that when she returned to the open Wimbledon of 1968 she asked for the same design.
Milestone No. 6 was more characteristic: he dressed Italy's Lea Pericoli, who radiated prettiness like a Fourth of July sparkler, in a pink petticoat. Pericoli and her pink petticoat caused considerably more excitement at Wimbledon in '55 and considerably less satisfaction to its wearer. "It caused an absolute furor," Tinling says. "Petticoats were all the rage in America. Everyone was looking like absolute dolls there, and I thought, well, there's certainly a place for that in tennis. It was the first time we had created a completely new garment. There had never been a tennis petticoat in history."
Then, in 1957, Althea Gibson won the Wimbledon singles and thus became the first Negro ever to win a major tennis championship. She won again at Wimbledon in 1958. The social consequence of Althea's victories tended to mute even the fact that in 1958 Tinling had designed a pair of lace-covered gold lamé underpanties for Florida's blonde, shapely Karol Fageros. Earlier Teddy introduced the cocoon to tennis couture. The cocoon, originally a rather shapeless, sacklike tennis dress, lives on to this day in a slightly different form.
"The shift, which came out of the cocoon, has become an immortal thing," Tinling says, never one to balk at the prospect of immortality. "It has gone on for 10 years, and we're still doing them. Fashion is like nature. You have to experiment and only the good survives."
The Wimbledon of 1958 also marked the arrival of Brazil's tempestuous Maria Bueno on the scene. This inspired some of Tinling's brightest moments—and a few other things as well. "Something had to be done about Bueno," says Tinling. "It marked my second time up, feeling that color must come back. She had this fantastic brooding character, the impression of an imminent storm, and I had to illustrate that in some way. Color had to be used somewhere."
To decorate Bueno's underpants and the lining of her skirt, Tinling devised, in 1962, a sunburst of diamond-shaped petals. He featured a different color for each of seven or eight outfits. Maria romped through the tournament for several days without her colors causing any critical concern. But then she turned up in a royal blue and turquoise affair that looked close enough to Wimbledon's official colors to inspire the belief that Teddy was having the Establishment on. This little number was followed by a costume enlivened with dashes of Italian pink. She wore it during a losing semifinal match.
"It was a very dramatic match," says Tinling, "and she lost in a storm of clouds and bad temper and arguments with the foot-fault judge, all interspersed with flashes of pink." But pink flashes apparently startled everybody too much, and later, in the fall of 1962, the Wimbledon committee decided to ban color for a second time.
This led to what Tinling refers to as the hospital years, a frustratingly aseptic era. Tinling called a conference of the women players he calls his trend setters. They decided to play it cool in all white for a couple of years at least and then assess public reaction.
To help steer him through those trying days, Tinling went straight into the enemy camp. He hired Angela Mortimer, a slender, resolute girl, a long-time All England Club member who had won the Wimbledon singles championship in 1961, as a sort of liaison officer. She liaises with Teddy's trendy-set players and she liaises with the Wimbledon tournament committee. It works nicely because Wimbledon's poobahs are Angela's old friends. She sees them socially, something her boss can never be accused of doing. "I see them occasionally," Tinling reports. "Our conversations are always very brittle."
"I feel very strongly about preserving the English look," says Angela. "A tennis player should always be immaculate. No one should use tennis to display fantastic-looking dresses. Teddy at least has very good taste. But if you let down the barriers it is hard to tell what is likely to come in. Where Teddy might do polka dots or stripes, say, in nice pastels, another designer would come on in live red."
Teddy may still come on in live red now that the hospital period has ended with the coming of color television to Wimbledon. But, if 1969 marks another milestone in the Tinling vs. Tradition contest, it is that he is more determined than ever to use Wimbledon as a conservative showcase for the more lively styles he will export to the rest of the world.
At his "eve of Wimbledon" show, Teddy trotted out Heldman and Bartkowicz in Star-Spangled Banner outfits: skirts lined with red and white stripes, then trimmed around the hem with stars on a blue ribbon, all this topped off with star-printed headbands. California's 18-year-old Kristy Pigeon wore a lavender satin outfit trimmed in—what else?—feathered pigeons. There were other new Tinling touches: a knee-length maxidress, complete with blue tights and a full scattering of embroidered rosebuds and wreaths. All of them did not make it to the courts clad like that, but "these are the winds of change," he said.
"Now the world wants color," says Tinling. "Only Wimbledon does not want color. Some of the bastions of American conservatism have pulled down the notices that say players must wear white. But not Wimbledon. Last year the BBC color people got so bored with endless shots of white clothes and green lawns that during one match they had six separate shots of the orange juice on the umpire's chair."