A History of Women’s Tennis Fashion

A History of Women’s Tennis Fashion

Tennis attire, practical and comfortable due to strict professional regulations, has undergone a fashion evolution. Athletes like Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova have creatively experimented with materials, such as lace and denim. Technological advancements, like spandex and nylon, have revolutionized uniforms, diverging significantly from century-old athletic wear. Let's explore the history of women's tennis fashion and how women shaped it over the years.

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The 1800s

A History of Women’s Tennis Fashion

Historically, stylish women in tennis transformed attire into a spectacle. The late 1800s introduction of Lawn Tennis at the All England Croquet Club led to a need for sophisticated female player wardrobes.

Influenced by cricket and lawn dresses, tennis adopted an all-white dress code for purity and to minimize sweat stains. Charlotte Dod, "Lottie," a 15-year-old prodigy, stirred debate with her 1887 Wimbledon win in a school uniform-like outfit. Opponents questioned its advantage, sparking consideration for a new women's tennis attire style.

In the early 1900s, women's tennis attire, emphasizing upper-class aesthetics, favored appearance over comfort. High collars, floor-length skirts, stockings, and long sleeves restricted mobility, mirroring lawn dresses from outdoor events.

Maud Wilson's 1884 Wimbledon victory in an ankle-length corseted dress preceded the enduring all-white uniform rule established six years later, signifying a pivotal shift in women's tennis fashion.

The 1920s to 1940s

In 1920, Suzanne Lenglen, the French tennis icon, made a bold statement at Wimbledon with a calf-length skirt, bare arms, and a Jean Patou-designed floppy hat. Her daring ensemble, featuring flapper-style headbands and a bandeau with a diamond pin, held in place by small French coins, not only stirred controversy but also established new fashion trends.

Lenglen's unconventional style prompted Wimbledon's relocation in 1922 due to the overwhelming crowds, cementing her as a celebrated figure. Her influence transformed women's tennis attire, introducing sleeveless blouses, higher hemlines, and creatively folded garments throughout the 1930s. This era witnessed a shift to more comfortable styles, such as polo shirts, drop-waist dresses, and cinched-waist designs, moving away from the earlier restrictive high-collared dresses.

On the men's side, French player Rene Lacoste pioneered breathable cotton shirts in 1933, now recognized as polo shirts.

Helen Wills Moody, a notable figure of the decade, embraced a curtsied uniform, aligning with the prevailing preference for free and rectangular shapes. As the first American woman athlete to attain global celebrity status, Moody cultivated friendships with royalty and film stars.

The 1940s to 1960s

In the 1940s, women embraced elegant shorts for improved court mobility. American tennis player Pauline Betz, for instance, often sported high-waisted shorts with a belted tie and a short-sleeve blouse.

At Wimbledon in 1949, American player Gertrude “Gussie” Moran's attire, featuring lace shorts and a ruffled top by British designer Ted Tinling, hinted at the upcoming 1950s trends.

During the 1950s, women's tennis uniforms favored cinched waists, decorative cardigans, and feminine pleated skirts. This style, epitomized by Maureen Connolly, gained prominence in 1953 when she became the first woman to achieve a calendar-year Grand Slam by winning all four major tournaments.

The 1960s to 1980s

The 1960s witnessed the emergence of modern fashion, showcasing stylish and tailored clothing, along with the prevalence of man-made fabrics and drip-dry tennis attire.

In the 1970s, tennis stars like Chris Evert and Evonne Goolagong continued to wear tasteful and practical feminine dresses by Tinling. However, some felt that practicality had overshadowed glamour in women's tennis clothing. Responding to the need for functionality, clothing manufacturers began creating tennis outfits with breathable fabrics, short skirts, and sports shirts, marking the era of small sponsor logos.

During this decade, as women campaigned for equal pay and the right to compete with men, women's tennis styles became more personalized, highlighting personality as a crucial factor.

In 1973, designer Tinling collaborated with the legendary Billie Jean King during the Battle of the Sexes match and worked with other top women professionals advocating for equal tennis rights. Tinling aimed to enhance their appearance, drawing more attention to the women's circuit.

The 1980s to 2000s

A History of Women’s Tennis Fashion

Before the appearance of Serena Williams' catsuit, Anne White gained attention in the '80s by sporting the first all-white, full-length bodysuit at Wimbledon. Despite her match being postponed and being asked to change, the television broadcast made her outfit a global sensation. The fashion trends of this era leaned toward a rebellious and individualistic nature, as seen when American Chris Evert lost her diamond bracelet on the court during the 1987 U.S. Open.

In the '90s, the popular German champion Steffi Graf often wore matching colorful and floral skirts, polos, and hair scrunchies. This decade was characterized by vibrant colors, bold designs, and the prevalence of scrunchies.

The 2000s to 2010s

During this era, brand endorsements emerged as a significant influence on modern tennis flair and apparel for top players. Big activewear brands meticulously planned major events up to six months in advance.

Venus and Serena Williams revolutionized tennis fashion by introducing polyester and nylon materials, prized for their lightweight durability and technical fabrics that wick moisture away from the body.

In 2002, Serena Williams made a groundbreaking fashion statement at the U.S. Open in her first catsuit. She went on to win the tournament in the tight, mini black jumpsuit, adorned with a $29,000 bracelet.

With advancements in fabric innovation, tennis apparel evolved to include elements of sun protection. Lightweight and breathable UV protection fabrics, first popularized in Australia, became standard for major sportswear companies in 2006. These fabrics incorporated a combination of weave, color, and sun-bouncing minerals like titanium oxide and zinc oxide infused into the fibers.

Maria Sharapova also made a significant impact on the fashion scene, when she wore a blazer jacket for her warm-up in the 2008 Wimbledon. Serena Williams, a longstanding rival, also showcased a tuxedo-style blouse at the tournament.

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2010 to Now

In the past decade, tennis fashion embraced a more daring and boundary-pushing approach. An iconic moment occurred in 2010 when Venus Williams sported a lingerie-like black lace dress with red outlining. In 2015, Maria Sharapova's tennis dress became a sensation, incorporating fabric technology for moisture control. The design featured a thin T-back, revealing an almost bareback and allowing for maximum movement. The outfit comprised a white tank top connected to a frilled blue mini skirt.

A couple of years later, at the U.S. Open, Sharapova captivated the crowd with an elegant black lace dress designed by Riccardo Tisci, adorned with countless sparkling Swarovski crystals.

In the 2016 French Open, Serena Williams initiated the trend of wearing longer leggings under her blue tennis dress. A few months later, at the U.S. Open, she introduced compression sleeves on both arms, creating her own distinctive style. The origin of the compression sleeve can be traced back to Canadian tennis star Milos Raonic, who initially wore it during the 2014 Miami Masters to shield a rash from sunlight. Serena Williams later adopted this unique look.

Two years afterward, the iconic Wakanda-inspired black catsuit made its debut at the French Open. Serena justified the outfit by stating it was designed to prevent blood clots, a recurring issue for her. However, the French Tennis Federation president, Bernard Giudicelli, banned the ensemble. In response to the controversy, Williams introduced a black tutu skirt for the U.S. Open, created by a prominent sportswear brand.

Some of Baleaf’s Take on Stylish Tennis Ensemble

Explore the versatility of our Women's Golf & Tennis collection, showcasing stylish and moisture-wicking dresses, skorts, shirts, and tops suitable for both on and off the court.

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Laureate 2-in-1 Tank Dress

Baleaf Laureate 2-in-1 Tank Dress

The Laureate 2-in-1 Tank Dress, crafted from 82% polyester and 18% Spandex, boasts a crew neck and two side pockets for essentials. With well-fitted armholes ensuring ease of movement and a slightly flared bottom, the inseam's elastic waistband ensures it won't roll or dig in.

Laureate Sleeveless 2-in-1 Dress

Baleaf Laureate Sleeveless 2-in-1 Dress

The Laureate Sleeveless 2-in-1 Dress, made from 82% polyester and 18% Spandex, offers a breathable, lightweight, and soft feel, ensuring it's non-see-through.

With an A-line silhouette, mock collar, zippered placket, and well-fitted armholes for ease of movement, it features a back pleated design to sculpt and contour the hips, along with separate inner shorts for comfortable and secure coverage. Additionally, two zipper pockets provide convenient storage.

Sustainable U Neck Tank Top

Baleaf Sustainable U Neck Tank Top

The Sustainable U Neck Tank Top features a U-neck design to flatter your neckline, while its well-fitted armholes guarantee ease of movement. Additionally, flatlock seams are incorporated to ensure there is no chafing during wear.

Sustainable A-Line Skort

Baleaf Sustainable A-Line Skort

The Sustainable A-Line Skort boasts a high-rise A-line skirt with a pleated style to define and shape the hips. Its built-in flexible liner shorts provide extended coverage and prevent riding up while flatlock seams ensure a chafe-free experience.

Laureate High-Rise Pleated Tennis Skorts

Baleaf Laureate High-Rise Pleated Tennis Skorts

The Laureate High-Rise Pleated Tennis Skorts, crafted from 90% polyester and 10% spandex with a mesh lining of 95% polyester and 5% spandex, offer breathability, softness, and comfort, coupled with quick-dry and sweat-wicking properties. The skorts feature a high-rise design, a wide waistline for optimal coverage, and a flattering stomach appearance, along with built-in shorts and three pockets for added functionality.

Laureate UPF50+ 5-Pocket Skort

Baleaf Laureate UPF50+ 5-Pocket Skort

The Laureate UPF50+ 5-Pocket Skort, crafted from 85% polyester and 15% Spandex, provides UPF 50+ sun protection along with stretchy, lightweight, breathable, and quick-drying features. With water-resistant properties due to a durable water repellent (DWR) treatment, the skort features a high rise design, A-line silhouette, a back-cinched waistband for a comfortable fit, a built-in 3.5" liner for extended coverage that won't ride up, and five pockets. Flatlock seams are also incorporated to ensure a chafe-free experience.

#wemovetogether To Empower Evolution in Tennis Fashion Trends

Women's tennis fashion is about pushing boundaries, turning an upper-class game into a battleground for women seeking the freedom to play. Tennis fashion then and now serves both as a barrier and an opportunity for powerful women, emphasizing a legacy marked by freedom and a disregard for others' opinions, recognizing that opinions don't win matches.

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