Issues Forum #1
THE WHITES TRADITION
IS IT STILL GOOD FOR THE SPORT?
As tennis moved from country club to mass acceptance, its dress code progressively relaxed, but croquet has remained rigidly "white." At Wimbledon, Andre Aggasiz wears immaculate whites, but whenever whites are not required, he expresses his colorful self in styles that would have him banned from most croquet courts. Tennis players have set a new standard of satorial and personal style, on and off the courts.
Isn't it time we examined our all-white aesthetic to get in step
with the times and with a new generation of potential players?
Might it be past time to retire this rule, along with Aunt
Emma's high-buttoned shoes and bustles? The price for holding fast to tradition for tradition's sake might be higher than we want to pay.
I raise the whites issue as an organizer and promoter of croquet. The image of the sport is an important part of publicizing it, of inviting people to explore it. Does a rigid whites rule serve the purpose of promoting the sport in the 1990's and beyond?
It's a small matter, you say? If it really is a small matter,
why is such passion aroused on the court when somebody violates
the code, even with the most reasonable of excuses?
Wearing all white to your croquet affair sends out a strong message. To many, the message is, "I'm a billionaire croquet player, and you're scum!"
Of course, if you're not at the croquet lawns, who knows how
whites might appear to the uninitiated. To a woman who attacked
me verbally on a busy sidewalk some years ago, my whites could
have represented the uniform of a hospital orderly about to put
her in restraints. Walking in front of me, she turned without
warning and spat, "You're following me! Stop following me!"
Nurses don't wear whites any more, necessarily, and perhaps
hospital orderlies have given them up by now as well, along with
Response to my whites isn't always hostile; quite the contrary.
Without my ever-so-patrician croquet mallet, I have been taken
for a working man and have people totally at their social ease,
allowing them to see me as an unthreatening social inferior.
I stopped by Orchard Supply Hardware not long ago to buy some
long nails and washers for the corner boundary settings and was
approached in one of the aisles by a professional-looking guy in a three-piece suit. "Can you tell me where the masking tape
is?," he asked distractedly. "Aisle 12, on the end," I pointed,
without skipping a beat, sending him on his way. No need to
explain that I was a croquet player, not a hardware store clerk
or a painter.
I'm willing to enjoy being thrust into these mini-costume dramas.
When I wear my white safari hat, I can expect jocular comments
about big game hunting: "Gonna bag a big one today, bwana?"
If you wear whites out on the streets, you are, indeed, on
safari, amidst an infinitely variegated mass of undistinguished,
ordinary beings. Some of them will chide you or even
attack you. Others will razz you good-naturedly. You will stand
out. You might come to enjoy the thrill of deliberately setting
up such adventures; but if you're a timid soul, you will
cover up your whites with an overcoat so as not to invite such
In an article for Croquet Magazine, Gail Arkley confessed, "Off
the courts, when I felt particularly good, I would present a
brazen, totally white glare to the non-croquet world (my
job, the city streets) hoping it appeared a little outrageous to
others, as it once did to me."
A professor from Australia visited our club and refused to wear whites for his three-month membership, for just this reason. He
didn't want to parade through the streets in blazing white; he
wanted to mix and merge. We had a conference with the president
of the club and decided to allow the exception. He was
Australian after all, and a professor, entitled to his
We weren't so sure about Dan, who lives in left wing liberal
Berkeley and views whites as a symbol of class exclusion. He
refuses to wear a white uniform, and at the same time has
become one of the most valuable members, always helping out,
taking on responsibilities, taking care of visitors, etc. There
has been no formal exemption for him. He is an acknowledged
"outlaw" with regard to this issue, he has gotten away with it,
and he knows it. It's like an act of civil disobedience, highly
principled. He does pay a social penalty, drawing the scorn of
the more strait-laced members, but he's used to that - it's all
part of the class struggle.
Dan's clash with a group of lawn bowlers in Berkeley has left its
mark on him. Above all, he says most emphatically, he does not
want to look like a lawn bowler. Maybe he has a point. The
lawn bowlers are certainly declining in numbers in these parts,
dying off without younger replacements. And we do look like
lawn bowlers in our all-whites. let's face it. One of the
comments addressed to me on the sidewalks has been, "Going out on
the lawn to bowl, eh?" Friendly enough, but patronizing. Not one of my favorites.
Adding some color would mark a distinction between lawn bowlers
ad croquet players. It would let people notice that we are on
average a couple of decades younger than the bowlers,
for one, and more tolerant of young ideas and expressions of
individuality. On public lawns, especially, this expression of
democracy is surely a good thing.
In a club that is among the youngest in the country, we still
confront the doubts and prejudices of young fans. One 17-year
old favored me with a truthful explanation of why he didn't
pursue a sport for which, we both agreed, he showed great
promise. "I have a social life, I'm interested in girls, and
what would it look like? I wouldn't want to go around
dressed like those old dorks in white."
That's not to say that white clothes alone are preventing a mass
movement of youth towards croquet. But what is clear, at the
very least, is that the whites rule stands as an a genuine
impediment to the participation of younger players.
You can say that it shouldn't be so, that it's a petty matter,
that if they're really interested it wouldn't be an
obstacle...but that begs the question. Just think for a minute:
Even YOU would have second thoughts about being required to dress
in a way that your peers would consider "uncool." We've all been through that, forced in childhood by our mothers to wear the most atrociously embarrassing garb, and we hated it, didn't we?
And what does the extreme care one must take to keep white things
white suggest about the sporting spirit? Is this a suitable
attitude to carry into the practice of a sport? I haven't asked
Jerry Rice about this, or Michael Jackson, but I would be very
surprised to hear them say that they even think about, for a
split second, what's going on with their clothes when they're in
a competitive situation. They will be disciplined, rigorous,
intentional, and superbly professional in doing what they have to
do - but they're not going to be thinking about mussing their
I have an excellent reason or excuse, should I need one, for
shunning the all-white costume - not quite a medical excuse, but
almost as good. In the mid seventies, I indulged in a fad
called "having your colors done" - a detailed analysis of the
colors and color combinations that should be preferred and on the
other hand avoided given one's hair and skin tone. The
result is an impressive book with hundreds of color swatches and
numerous specific advisements. One of mine is: "Avoid putting
white next to your face." The explanation of my color consultant
was, "It makes your skin look sallow."
"You're a summer person," she told me, and therefore required to
avoid most strong and rich colors extremes, and to favor pastels.
Even in their proper place, on the lawns, are we sending the right message with our whites? I still have an anonymous flier from the days when irate citizens tried to drive us out of the park, just for building a croquet lawn there. If not for the whites, and the image of exclusivity we presented, the flier might have been kinder and
gentler. It was titled THE KU KLUX CROQUET:
"Prestigious is the way they dub
The San Francisco Croquet Club.
Needing some nice hide-away
For this mysterious game they play
These well-heeled gents in lily white
Decide Stern Grove's the ideal site."
Stern Grove was a public park. Almost anyone could join. But we
looked much too exclusive.
What's your answer? What's your anecdote, and what are your
proofs? Do you have a local solution that works and which you
would recommend to others? Let us know. The next part of the
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