The scantily clad apparition with the croquet mallet strides through the gate and approaches the lawn, Jesus slippers flip-flopping with each step against the bare soles of his feet. He pauses at court's edge, puts down his ragged backpack and extracts from it a vial of sun lotion, which he proceeds to apply to every square inch of exposed flesh, and there's a lot of it. He wears below only a bikini thong, while on top a tie-dyed tank top mercifully conceals from view a considerable gut overhanging pale, hairy legs.
Oblivious to the disapproving frowns of other club members courtside, he wipes his oily paws on the tank top and takes from the backpack a big cigar, lights it, and puffs greedily as he raises his gaze to survey the court, teeth exposed in a half-smile of satisfaction. Spying a set of balls nearby, he sets himself a three-ball break and begins knocking the balls around the court, enjoying the feel of the warm sun on his freshly oiled skin, happily puffing smoke with each good hit, prepared to enjoy a couple of hours indulging his full rights as a member in good standing.
This apparition is the worst fear of the all-white croquet fashion nazis who vehemently resist all change. Is it a reasonable fear?
The history of this debate over the last decade suggests that it is not. Lawn bowlers began to relax their all-white clothing standard many years ago, but if you visit a lawn bowling facility anywhere in the world, you are likely to see everyone in white. Croquet New Zealand changed its regulation last year to a very loose injunction suggesting "appropriate" clothing, but those few who shun whites are still the exception that proves the continued dominance of all-whites. Local clubs here and there - for all manner of reasons - have eased their costume restrictions, but evidence of significant change in the croquet fashion culture is hard to find.
Revolutionists point to recent rulings of the Croquet Players Association of New South Wales which, according to Peter Tavender, president of the CPA [the official state organization], were widely misinterpreted. "The Council meeting," he says, "rejected two motions...to do away with wearing whites for CPA events and a similar motion for the ACA events. The only motion that was passed was that the CPA encourage clubs to 'amend their regulations to remove the compulsory wearing of whites'."
The real movement is towards more freedom of choice
Although she is in favor of predominately white gear, she says, "I have worn striped shirts, and shirts with blocks of colour, provided about half of the surface is white. I have even worn club colour shorts for club play. I like the idea of team shirts when playing for your club, and that is now permissible in South Australia. Teams at the nationals are wearing state uniforms more now than in the past."
Still, she insists that "the fairly generous dress code here in Australia is not a factor in attracting or retaining people. In fact some people come to croquet because of the strict dress code of lawn bowls (and despite what you were told it is still very restrictive - the only change is that they are allowed to wear a club uniform shirt when playing pennants). Women do not want to wear hats at all times as the bowling women have to - and the hats have to meet strict guidelines, for both men and women bowlers. And they want to be able to tuck their shirts or blouses into their slacks and not have to wear long over-blouses (which hide the rolls of flab around the waistline)."
Summing up, Davidson declares, "Long live reasonable dress codes. And I think what we have in Australia is reasonable."
But according to Chris Williams, though whites must be worn for tournaments, the British actually do not have a rigid whites code for club play. "As far as I know," he says, "Hurlingham insist on whites on the four front lawns, but not on lawns five and six or the cricket pitch. I think Parkstone request that players wear light coloured clothing - the club is a tennis and croquet club.. I do not know of any other clubs that request whites to be worn during club play. Of the big clubs I know that Cheltenham, Budleigh, Bowdon, Compton, Bristol, Surbiton, Nottingham and Southport do not insist on whites.
The social code sets the standard
Everything in croquet is ultimately decided at the club level - on the lawns, where croquet happens. In the most social of sports, it's not surprising that croquet fashion is the subject of so much debate and complaint.
In the most social of sports, the issue will be decided on the courts, not in the board room or at the annual meeting of the croquet association, and it will be decided by individuals who really like to look good, according to their own standard. It doesn't matter if organizers or croquet flacks think the sport would LOOK better to the public at 100 paces if there were some spots of color among the blazing white. Croquet players in this most social of sports will seek the approval of their peers. Let's face it: if you really look good in it on the croquet lawn, you can get away with it, no matter what the club rule is. What are they going to do, put you in fashion prison?
All-whites are the emblem of rigid conformity and institutional repression. Is it any wonder that the famously individualistic characters in our sport rebel? Does anybody know of ANY sport with more dedicated individualists than ours? What a contradiction, to see us all gathered together in faux white conformity!
As for the horror story we introduced in the first paragraph, this loser is no threat to anybody but himself. The members disapprove. They will cut him dead. The social compact at the club level doesn't have to be written down and voted upon. It is an automatic, self-regulating mechanism which always works.
Let us acknowledge that the "reasons" given for not wanting to wear all-white are mostly facile justifications for wanting to break the code, or at least bend it a little in the direction of individual self-expression. But co-editor Mike Orgill seems to have found a genuinely valid reason for showing some colour on the court. Like any good croquet journalist, he troubled to undertake the relevant research, so we feel bound to print his report in full, as follows:
Will fashion industry dictators end "whites" debate?
According to Orgill, "The fashion dictators have made the whites debate irrelevant. White trousers are impossible to find in American clothing stores. This is a crisis for traditionalists like me who eschew the wearing of shorts. I do not exhibit my hairy legs on the croquet lawn, and I do not wish to view the hairy legs of my opponents. For me, white shorts are not an option.
"I first caught a glimmer of the crisis last summer when I shopped for whites to replace my increasingly shabby collection. I went to all the reliable suppliers, from Walmart to Target, Mervyns to Macys, Banana Republic to The Gap, Nordstrom to Brooks Brothers. No white trousers. I was concerned. There had always been white trousers. My wife said not to worry. I had missed the spring collection, she told me. In the summer the shops are deep into fall and making the transition into winter. Wait until January or February, she assured me. The shelves will be full of whites then.
"I spent an anxious winter. Thankfully it rained so often that I seldom played croquet. But I was down to two pairs of white trousers, and they were not in tournament condition. I thumbed uneasily through mail-order catalogs; Lands End, L. L. Bean, all the old stand-byes. These catalogs had always featured white trousers all year long, but now there were none. Black, blue, red, yellow, even puce for gods sake, and sometimes "sand." But no true white.
"In mid-January I began to look again. I searched from the lowest pipe-rack shmatte dealer to the most modish emporium. There was still nothing, but it was early. During February I made my forays in earnest, dropping into store after store on my lunch hour. It became clear that not only were there no whites on the shelves, there would be no whites on order. I discussed my quest with mens clothing managers in Nordstrom, Brooks Brothers and Macys. They revealed what should have been obvious: bright white trousers were no longer in fashion. There would be no bright white trousers until the fashion dictators changed their minds and allowed bright white trousers to again exist.
"The final humiliation came at the Banana Republic in San Francisco. I asked the callow sales clerk for white trousers. His eyes glazed as if I were speaking Sanskrit. I pointed to a stack of brilliant white dress shirts. "Like those," I pleaded. He looked through me and laughed, not bothering to reply. I was a fashion leper.
"Oh, I eventually found some new white pants, some white jeans in the Lands End catalog. I bought them immediately. I had never allowed myself to wear jeans on the court, but I had now lost all pride. I bought several pair; they will, I am sure, soon disappear from the market.
"And those of you who wear white shorts, who think that the disappearance of white trousers doesnt affect you, be warned. In my futile search through the gamut of American retail I observed that white shorts are also increasingly difficult to find."
Orgill had barely finished his research when the men's fashion spring supplement of the NEW YORK TIMES appeared with a special feature on "White Lightening" which proclaimed in banner type, "Men in white will be everywhere this season, as a crisp, fresh look dominates everything from sportswear to suits."
Oh yeah? Maybe on the fashion runways of New York. The only "men in white" I've seen around here are the guys that wake me up at dawn collecting the garbage. But I'm going to try hard to make my old whites look "crisp and fresh." For just one season....I could be in fashion!
[Answer to "who and where they are": (1) Stephen Mulliner (left) and Neil Spooner (2) at the Sonoma Cutrer Winery, Windsor, California.]
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