Fashion Forward on the Tennis Courts

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Written By Rachel Greenberg

According to a study done at North Carolina University, women make up the bigger half of the recreational tennis market. 

It’s no surprise, then, that women have led some of the biggest fashion movements of tennis, and that the fashion of tennis has changed to accommodate women’s needs.  

Nowadays, it’s easy to find lots of great tennis gear targeted towards women. Women’s tennis clothes are designed to flatter figures and to enhance game play. Women’s shoes are designed to take into account even the slightest difference in women’s feet from men’s.

There are also many great choices for women in high fashion tennis gear. Tennis is a sport that tends to be popular with many high profile individuals. As a result, it’s not surprising that high fashion women’s bags and clothing have become popular and commonplace.

The original women’s tennis outfit of the late 19th century was a pretty typical Victorian outfit: floor-length skirts, jackets, even bodices, and head covering hats or scarves.

CC Image from Flickr

White became the default color of tennis clothing because it could hide sweat stains, a necessity for the modesty minded woman of the early 20th century. White is still a popular color for tennis clothes, but this may be more out tradition than utility. Once something becomes a standard for Wimbledon, it’s hard not to think of it as the default “look” of tennis.

But as awareness for the state of women’s rights began to change, this societal change began to manifest in tennis fashion.

Women began to wear shorter skirts, and bolder colors. Suzanne Lenglen was a trendsetter in that regards. In 1922, she began to dress in brightly colored cardigans and short skirts for her games. This, along with Mary Sutton, who in 1905 refused to wear a long-sleeved shirt while playing, began to usher in a new era in women’s tennis fashion.

In the 20s, the age of jazz was apparent in the fashion of women on the court. Cocktail dress-inspired uniforms filled the courts with extravagant detailing and high fur collars. Stars like Helen Wills-Moody made news with stylish above-the-knee flapper-inspired skirts.

In the 40s, icon Katherine Hepburn took her classic menswear aesthetic to the court with flattering high-waisted shorts.

Today, the short white skirt is almost synonymous with women’s tennis fashion. But the right to this skimpy style was not easily won. Gertrude Moran, a famous tennis star of the 1950s, caused an uproar when she wore skirts that were short enough that the photographers could catch glimpses of her lacy undershorts.

Moran, who the press called “Gorgeous Gussie” because of her frequent racy photos, was forced to wear shorts as a result of this event, but she was still a trendsetter in the world of tennis. She also requested a multicolor uniform, though at the time, white was the only accepted uniform color.

Ted Tingling, a former designer and player, designed Moran’s famous panties, and later designed golden panties for Karol Fagero, but she was banned from wearing them at Wimbleon, and Tingling was shunned from the tennis community.

Women tennis icons still make a lot of press for their fashion, like the Williams sisters’ colorful outfits, and women’s fashion is more important than ever in the world of marketing, as demonstrated by the popularity of such lines as the Court Couture Tennis Bag series. But it’s easy to see that you can read a lot about the women of an era through their fashion on the courts.

Rachel Greenberg is a freelance writer and editor in the San Diego area. She recently graduated from Johns Hopkins University where she studied English and Writing Seminars. Her most current project has led her to research and write about professional and recreational tennis. Connect with Rachel on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

Image credit: Flickr, Creative Commons.

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