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Since 1877, Wimbledon Tennis has been one of the most recognised tennis championships, hosting hundreds of royals, celebrities, and visitors from around the world and playing a central role in the foundation of many famous tennis careers. As far back as the nineteenth century, the accepted tennis outfit for players were plain white, long-sleeved shirts and trousers for men and full-length corseted white dresses and hats for women. It was not until the 1920s and 1930s that the players, (particularly the female players), began to experiment with their clothing. Shorter skirts, shorts and sleeveless tops were all introduced, some more daring than others, to provide ease of movement and an expression of individual personality and style.
While tennis style evolved to be practical and comfortable this was never at the expense of fashion. High-profile athletes like Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova found their own ways to have fun with their outfits, (think tennis dresses made of lace and even denim) and often attract as much attention for what they wear as their backhands. Tennis outfits have often inspired the masses too, like the white V-neck sweater used by Bill Tilden, still today remaining a classic staple in men’s fashion.
Advances in technology have also changed the way tennis outfits look and function. Embracing of nylon, spandex, and other synthetic fabrics has boosted the performance of the players, who were till then wearing everyday fibres, voluminous skirts and heavy undergarments.
We take a brief look back over the years at tennis and the players standing out sartorially on the tennis court.
Tennis became very popular in Victorian England, and the clothing matched the fashion of the day: tennis wear was dresses with high collars and long sleeves. Women played tennis in floor-length skirts, stockings, and long-sleeved tops (all of which prevented a full range of mobility). White was the colour of choice and became synonymous with tennis, symbolic of the wealthy upper classes at the time.
The Flapper era brought many changes; French tennis player, Suzanne Lenglen caused a stir when she played Wimbledon with bare arms and a knee-length hemline and she was the first to bring headbands on the court. During that decade, French tennis player René Lacoste created lightweight, breathable cotton shirts (now known as polo shirts) and started mass-producing them in 1933. Today, the Lacoste brand continues to manufacture the tops emblazoned with the iconic crocodile (“The Crocodile” was Lacoste’s nickname).
In the 1930s, Helen Wills Moody’s courtside uniforms fit in with the loose and boxy silhouettes of the time. Instead of impractical long skirts, Moody preferred to wear pleated knee-length skirts and her signature white visor.
Women’s tennis uniforms in the 1950s were all about cinched waists, tight cardigans, and feminine pleated skirts, seen here on the American actress Donna Reed. At the same time, following his retirement, British tennis player Fred Perry launched his namesake sportswear brand in 1952.
Mod fashion took the 1960s by storm and quickly arose in tennis outfits. Streamlined tunics were popular, as well the graphic print shorts worn by English players and Marlys Burel of France.
From the 70s and widely adopted in the 80s, the bright yellow tennis ball was adopted so that it could be more easily spotted in televised matches, replacing black or white tennis balls from previous years. The decision had an impact on the tennis wardrobe as well, as players opted out of the formal white dress code and began wearing a palette of pastels or bright neon on the court, as seen here on Steffi Graf.
Anna Kournikova and Maria Sharapova are two tennis players who became almost as famous for what they would wear on the court as they were for their stellar performances. While Kournikova favoured short, tight, and bikini inspired outfits, Sharapova designed all of her uniforms, adding menswear elements and Swarovski crystals.
The world famous Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, ushered in an era of outlandish outfits that demanded attention on the court—red and black lace dresses, glitter and diamante and revealing cuts and embellishments. There was no denying their brilliance in tennis and the fashion of the sport.
Brand endorsements have moved to a whole new level and love it or hate it, are becoming a symbol of a player’s status and have a huge impact on their clothing. Players such Ana Ivanovic regularly displays colourful clothing from Adidas, and Caroline Wozniacki is the latest muse for Stella McCartney’s line for the brand.
With Wimbledon tennis around the corner (2nd July – 15th July), we are eagerly waiting to see which fashion trends will dominate the court this year! What do you think?