Roger Federer. Wimbledon, 2009. The then longest men’s major final in history; a five-set, 77-game thriller against Andy Roddick. But most importantly? His jacket.
A monogrammed RF chain with gold piping, the jacket bore the number 15 – Federer’s record total of Grand Slam titles won after his match win – in cursive embroidery.
Was it arrogance? Had the Fed snuck it out in his bag in quiet hope? Or did a Nike representative hand it to him before the trophy presentation? Either way, the jacket generated many column inches, 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 vest, which stripped down to shorts after the warm-up. Then there were subtle striped shirts, or even trainers with gold accents. This was the kind of aesthetic style that Federer was becoming known for.
Now, with last week’s news of his retirement following Serena Williams’ announcement in August, tennis (and sports in general) has lost one of its most stylish protagonists. Federer has had a beautiful journey. From a laundry list of wacky hairstyles (at-home peroxide, awkward top knot, greasy ponytail and wearing his suit pants front-to-front) to US Vogue editor-in-chief Anna’s best friend Wintour. Federer is a frequent front-row attendee, Rolex ambassador and designer. Oh, and according to LVMH boss Bernard Arnault, a “living god.”
It’s an unfortunate cliché with stylish men, but Federer credits his wife, Mirka, with his initial fashion awakening, once telling GQ: “I wore running shoes, jeans and a practice shirt, then when Mirka met me , she seemed. and go, ‘Errr, are you sure about this look?’
“Then, I really started getting into it. I traveled more and went to different cities and met interesting people. The next thing you know, you look around you – maybe it’s in Milan, in New York, wherever – and you notice that everyone is making a good effort.”
Since then, Federer’s polished and sophisticated off-court style has been matched by his gentlemen’s one-handers and balletic volleys on it. Off the field, he likes a turtleneck; a smart, well-cut woolen coat with a turned collar; sweater draped over shoulders; double breasted suits. But he’s also not afraid to mix it up with bombers, denim and leather jackets, gingham buttons, colorful sneakers.
He has hands-on design involvement with Uniqlo, with whom he signed a 10-year, $300 million deal in 2018, ending his long association with Nike. Federer approached the Japanese brand, famous for its comfortable and flattering basics, and he works closely with designer Christophe Lemaire, who is creative director at Uniqlo’s research and development center in Paris; and he has some decrees (not yellow). Comfort is his number one priority, followed closely by flair.
Separately, Federer has a shoe deal with Swiss brand On, with its rather amusing line – at least for British audiences – called Roger’s Collection. His signature shoe, The Roger Pro, which began life with a 3D scan of his foot, sold out when it launched last year. Meanwhile, the Roger Advantage model is the understated Stan Smith.
He has become a keen analyst of the past of his personal style and his sport in general. He recognizes, for example, the days of looser clothing gone by and now actively embraces a slimmer silhouette on the court, telling GQ magazine: “Was I crazy to wear an XL at 17? You want to think you are big and passionate. now [players] look stronger and thinner.”
He (perhaps cheekily, but quite accurately) used Rafa Nadal’s ill-fated caprice dressing era as an example of how important image is to the modern sports star. But Federer refuses to be hard on his new self about the ponytail era: “It was all part of an evolutionary process. Do I regret having long hair? No, I’m glad I had it and I’m glad I got rid of it again!”
He prides himself on his innovative approach, including his stunning all-black ensembles at the US Open, which gave off a rocket-assassin vibe during the night sessions. Of his time with Nike — which 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 envelope – sometimes a bit too much. But it was good. These moments remain unforgettable and I was willing to take the risk. I’ve 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, deeming them a violation of the strict all-white policy. But he’s never been reprimanded, as such, in the way that, say, Williams was (most memorably when the president of the French Tennis Federation appeared to call her Roland Garros suit disrespectful). Federer has never been accused of caring more about style over substance, which perhaps reflects enduring double standards.
Although Federer – along with Williams on the women’s side of the sport – has done more than anyone to advance the modern aesthetic of tennis and bring athletes into the world of fashion, he is not, strictly speaking, the first.
Federer has alluded to the fact that his tailored V-neck cardigans worn center court were a throwback to tennis champions René Lacoste and Fred Perry (who founded their eponymous brands in 1933 and 1952 respectively). Suzanne Lenglen, the world’s number one charismatic woman in the 1920s, had a penchant for courting glamorous furs. Arthur Ashe played in Buddy Holly specs and, when the fashion changed, aviators. And you could say that Andre Agassi cultivated a dubious kind of “pirate elegance.” But, especially in the men’s game, Federer’s influence on his younger peers and on the wider tennis scene is undeniable.
Bulgarian player and Vogue favorite Grigor Dimitrov is involved in modeling. Flame-haired newbie Jannik Sinner has graced the covers of GQ and Icon magazines and, earlier this year, he announced a partnership with Gucci. Italian sculptor Matteo Berrettini has a capsule collection with Hugo Boss. Canada’s Félix Auger-Aliassime stood out in particular Dapper at last year’s Met Gala in New York. Even Andy Murray has a range of sportswear, AMC.
It is not impossible that Federer will turn to fashion full-time after retirement. First, he plays his final tour in London this weekend. Last month, Williams wore a diamond-encrusted cape to bid her farewell at the US Open. The bar is set high. All eyes on Federer then – and his jacket.