I think – from the very little I’ve heard of people discussing anything to do with tennis, much less its fashion – that the most prominent query about what the players are wearing centres around why the women wear short skirts. Well as always, history had a hand in modern day fashion, just ask the guys at plumbing contractor kitchener and the skirts now – though a heck of a lot shorter than they were when the sport was popularized in Victorian England – hearken back to those that women were required to wear in the early days of women in tennis. Not saying it’s right, I’m just saying that’s how it is. Let’s see how it all evolved.
The late 19th century and the early 1900s saw an increased popularity in tennis. It was around also at this time that “tennis whites” became a thing. White clothing was an indication of wealth in these times, because it dirtied easily, and if you could wear white without getting it dirty, it must mean that you’re not a hard labourer, and thus that you’re rich. Logic. So, because tennis was a sport of the wealthy, it made sense that white would be the uniform colour of choice. In fact, Wimbledon made it mandatory in 1980 for its players to wear white. So that’s where the white came from. What about the skirts?
In the late 1800s, when women played tennis, they were playing in their street clothes, which, you guessed it, included corsets, petticoats, and huge, floofy skirts that went all the way to the ground. I can’t even imagine walking in that, much less playing tennis. And it didn’t get much better in the early 1900s, when women still played in long-sleeved tops and floor-length skirts. Finally, in the 20s, one bad-ass French lady called Suzanne Lenglen wasn’t having it anymore, and showed up at Wimbledon with bare arms and a knee-length skirt. She also wore flapper-style headbands when she played. Sounds like someone with whom I would have wanted to get a drink. Also in the 20s, Lacoste started to produce polo shirts, which remain popular in the sport today.
The 1930s saw Helen Wills Moody sporting a knee-length skirt alongside the rather boxy style of the 30s, and to that, she added a practical white visor. Gertrude Moran, an American player, shocked at Wimbledon in a ruffly top and lacy shorts under her skirt. Like a bamf. In the 50s, the outfits were hella cute, with plaited skirts and little feminine cardigans. The 60s were all about mod fashion, with long tunics and graphic shirts that were worn by some players. In the 70s, some men started wearing colourful polo shirts, short shorts, and the terrycloth headband. To me, I imagine this would be the kind outfit Will Ferrell would choose if he were to try his hand at tennis. In the 80s, everything was tighter. American Anne White wore a white unitard to Wimbledon, trying to break some barriers, no doubt, but was asked to wear a more traditional outfit the next day. Typical.
The 90s didn’t see too much except for one American player refusing to attend Wimbledon because he didn’t want to adhere to the all-white dress code. From the 2000s onward, as we’ve probably observed, some players, such as Serena Willams, have opted for some pretty edgy outfits, including one she wore at the French open that looked a little like lingerie. And then when she wore a simple white tennis dress to Wimbledon, she got flack because it was apparently too short, and showed her nipples. Women will never make everyone happy; there will always be someone complaining. We’ve come a long way from the floor length skirts, and good for those women pushing hard against the censorship of their bodies. They’re athletes. Let them wear what makes them feel comfortable so that they can do their jobs.