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 stepwith the times and with a new generation of potential players? Might it be past time to retire this rule, along with AuntEmma"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 violatesthe 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 howwhites might appear to the uninitiated. To a woman who attackedme verbally on a busy sidewalk some years ago, my whites couldhave represented the uniform of a hospital orderly about to puther in restraints. Walking in front of me, she turned withoutwarning and spat, "You"re following me! Stop following me!" Nurses don"t wear whites any more, necessarily, and perhapshospital orderlies have given them up by now as well, along with"sanitation engineers."Response to my whites isn"t always hostile; quite the contrary. Without my ever-so-patrician croquet mallet, I have been takenfor 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 somelong nails and washers for the corner boundary settings and wasapproached in one of the aisles by a professional-looking guy in a three-piece suit. "Can you tell me where the masking tapeis?," he asked distractedly. "Aisle 12, on the end," I pointed,without skipping a beat, sending him on his way. No need toexplain that I was a croquet player, not a hardware store clerkor 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 commentsabout big game hunting: "Gonna bag a big one today, bwana?"If you wear whites out on the streets, you are, indeed, onsafari, amidst an infinitely variegated mass of undistinguished,ordinary beings. Some of them will chide you or evenattack you. Others will razz you good-naturedly. You will standout. You might come to enjoy the thrill of deliberately settingup such adventures; but if you"re a timid soul, you willcover up your whites with an overcoat so as not to invite suchencounters.In an article for Croquet Magazine, Gail Arkley confessed, "Offthe courts, when I felt particularly good, I would present abrazen, totally white glare to the non-croquet world (myjob, the city streets) hoping it appeared a little outrageous toothers, 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. Hedidn"t want to parade through the streets in blazing white; hewanted to mix and merge. We had a conference with the presidentof the club and decided to allow the exception. He wasAustralian after all, and a professor, entitled to hiseccentricities.We weren"t so sure about Dan, who lives in left wing liberalBerkeley and views whites as a symbol of class exclusion. Herefuses to wear a white uniform, and at the same time hasbecome one of the most valuable members, always helping out,taking on responsibilities, taking care of visitors, etc. Therehas 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, highlyprincipled. He does pay a social penalty, drawing the scorn ofthe more strait-laced members, but he"s used to that - it"s allpart of the class struggle.Dan"s clash with a group of lawn bowlers in Berkeley has left itsmark on him. Above all, he says most emphatically, he does notwant to look like a lawn bowler. Maybe he has a point. Thelawn bowlers are certainly declining in numbers in these parts,dying off without younger replacements. And we do look likelawn bowlers in our all-whites. let"s face it. One of thecomments addressed to me on the sidewalks has been, "Going out onthe lawn to bowl, eh?" Friendly enough, but patronizing. Not one of my favorites.Adding some color would mark a distinction between lawn bowlersad croquet players. It would let people notice that we are onaverage a couple of decades younger than the bowlers,for one, and more tolerant of young ideas and expressions ofindividuality. On public lawns, especially, this expression ofdemocracy is surely a good thing.In a club that is among the youngest in the country, we stillconfront the doubts and prejudices of young fans. One 17-yearold favored me with a truthful explanation of why he didn"tpursue a sport for which, we both agreed, he showed greatpromise. "I have a social life, I"m interested in girls, andwhat would it look like? I wouldn"t want to go arounddressed like those old dorks in white."That"s not to say that white clothes alone are preventing a massmovement of youth towards croquet. But what is clear, at thevery least, is that the whites rule stands as an a genuineimpediment 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 anobstacle...but that begs the question. Just think for a minute:Even YOU would have second thoughts about being required to dressin 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 thingswhite suggest about the sporting spirit? Is this a suitableattitude to carry into the practice of a sport? I haven"t askedJerry Rice about this, or Michael Jackson, but I would be verysurprised to hear them say that they even think about, for asplit second, what"s going on with their clothes when they"re ina competitive situation. They will be disciplined, rigorous,intentional, and superbly professional in doing what they have todo - but they"re not going to be thinking about mussing theirclothes.I have an excellent reason or excuse, should I need one, forshunning the all-white costume - not quite a medical excuse, butalmost as good. In the mid seventies, I indulged in a fadcalled "having your colors done" - a detailed analysis of thecolors and color combinations that should be preferred and on theother hand avoided given one"s hair and skin tone. Theresult is an impressive book with hundreds of color swatches andnumerous specific advisements. One of mine is: "Avoid puttingwhite next to your face." The explanation of my color consultantwas, "It makes your skin look sallow.""You"re a summer person," she told me, and therefore required toavoid 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 andgentler. 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 welooked much too exclusive.


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