TENNIS

The enduring style of Roger Federer | men’s fashion

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Roger Federer. Wimbledon, 2009. The then-longest men’s major final in history; a five-set, 77-match thriller against Andy Roddick. But of the greatest importance? His jacket.

A monogrammed RF zipper with gold piping, the jacket featured the number 15 – the record total of Grand Slam titles Federer had won when he won the match – in cursive embroidery.

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Was it presumptuous? Had Fed pulled it out hidden in his bag in quiet hope? Or did a Nike representative give it to him before the trophy was presented? Regardless, the jacket generated plenty of columns, as did Federer’s outfit throughout that year’s tournament. Take the suit trousers paired with a military-inspired jacket – a sort of All England Club Sergeant Pepper – under which he wore a tailored waistcoat, only stripping down to shorts after warming up. Then there were the subtly striped shirts, or even the gold accented sneakers. It was the kind of aesthetic panache that Federer was becoming known for.

Roger Federer wearing his embroidered jacket at Wimbledon in 2009. Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

Now, with the announcement of her retirement last week, following Serena Williams’ announcement in August, tennis (and sport in general) has lost one of its most stylish protagonists. Federer had quite a sartorial journey. From a roll call of sleazy hairstyles (homemade peroxide dye, goofy sweater, greasy ponytail, and wearing her suit pants backwards), to American Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour’s best friend Federer. is a frequent front-row guest, Rolex Oh ambassador and designer, and according to LVMH chief Bernard Arnault, a “living god.”

It’s an unfortunate cliche with stylish men, but Federer credits his wife, Mirka, with her first awakening to fashion, once telling GQ, “I used to wear jogging shoes, jeans and a practice shirt, and then when Mirka met me, she looked and go, ‘Um, are you sure about this look?’

“Then I started to really get into it. I was traveling more and going to different cities and meeting interesting people. The next thing you know, you look around – maybe it’s Milan, New York, wherever – and you notice that everyone is making a good effort.

A young Roger Federer with his disheveled hair.
A first Federer hairstyle. Photograph: Kathy Willens/AP

Ever since then, Federer’s sleek and sophisticated style off the court has matched his gentlemanly one-handed backhand and ballet volleys. Off the court, he loves turtlenecks; an elegant, well-cut woolen coat with a worn collar; sweater draped over her shoulders; double-breasted suits. But he’s also not afraid to mix it up with bomber jackets, denim and leather jackets, gingham check shirts, colorful sneakers.

He has a hands-on design involvement with Uniqlo, with whom he signed a 10-year, $300 million contract in 2018, ending his longtime association with Nike. Federer has approached the Japanese brand, famous for its comfortable and pleasant basics, and he works closely with designer Christophe Lemaire, creative director of Uniqlo’s research and development center in Paris; and it has some edicts (no yellow). Comfort is its number one priority, closely followed by flair.

Roger Federer's shoe, The Roger Advantage, in collaboration with the Swiss brand On.
The Roger Advantage shoe. Photography: Denis Balibouse/Reuters

Separately, Federer has a shoe deal with Swiss brand On, with their rather amusing line – at least for the British public – called The Roger Collection. His signature shoe, The Roger Pro, which originated with a 3D scan of his own foot, ran out when it launched last year. Meanwhile, the Roger Advantage model is understated Stan Smith levels.

He has become a savvy analyst of his personal style history and that of his sport in general. He acknowledges, for example, the bygone days of the looser fit and is now actively embracing a sleeker silhouette on the court, telling GQ magazine: “Was I crazy wearing XL at 17? You want to think you’re tall and buff. Now [players] appear stronger and thinner.

Federer with Anna Wintour and the late André Leon Talley, far left, at an Óscar de la Renta performance in 2017.
Federer with Anna Wintour and the late André Leon Talley, far left, at an Óscar de la Renta performance in 2017. Photography: Gregory Pace/EIB/Shutterstock

He used (perhaps cheekily, but quite accurately) Rafa Nadal’s ill-fated capri days as an example of how important image is to the modern sports star. But Federer refuses to be hard on his younger self about the ponytail era: “It was all part of an evolutionary process. Do I regret having long hair? No, I’m glad I got it and I’m glad I got rid of it again!

He prides himself on his innovative approach, including his all-black ensembles at the US Open, which gave the vibe of a racket-wielding assassin during night sessions. Of his time at Nike – where he fought for more than two years to get back the rights to the RF monogram – he told GQ magazine:

“We tried to push the limits – sometimes a little too much. But it was fine. These moments remain memorable and I was ready to take risks. I tried to bring some style to tennis.

Sometimes he went too far. At least, according to Wimbledon officials who banned his orange-soled shoes in 2013 as a violation of the strict all-white dress policy. But, he was never blamed, as such, in the way, say, Williams was (most memorably when the president of the French Tennis Federation seemed to call him the disrespectful Roland Garros combination ). Federer has never been accused of caring more about style than substance, perhaps reflecting a persistent double standard.

Roger Federer in Geneva, 2019
Federer in Geneva in 2019. Photography: Julian Finney/Getty Images for The Laver Cup

Although Federer has – along with Williams on the women’s side of the sport – done more than anyone to advance the aesthetics of modern tennis and bring athletes into the world of fashion, he is not, strictly speaking, the first.

Federer hinted that his preppy V-neck knit cardigans worn on center court were a throwback to tennis champions René Lacoste and Fred Perry (who founded their namesake brands in 1933 and 1952 respectively). Suzanne Lenglen, the charismatic world number one woman in the 1920s, had a propensity for entering the court in glamorous fur. Arthur Ashe starred in Buddy Holly specs and, when fashions changed, aviators. And you could say that Andre Agassi cultivated a kind of dubious “pirate chic”. But, especially in the men’s game, Federer’s influence on his younger colleagues and on the tennis sphere at large is undeniable.

Bulgarian player and Vogue favorite Grigor Dimitrov is into modeling. Blazing-haired young gun Jannik Sinner has graced the covers of GQ and Icon magazines, and earlier this year announced a partnership with Gucci. Chiseled Italian Matteo Berrettini has a capsule collection with Hugo Boss. The Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime looked particularly dapper at last year’s Met Gala At New York. Even Andy Murray offers a range of sportswear, AMC.

It’s not impossible that Federer will go into fashion full-time after his retirement. First, he is playing his last tournament in London this weekend. Last month, Williams wore a diamond-encrusted cape to bid farewell to the US Open. The bar is set high. All eyes are then on Federer – and his jacket.

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