In the early days, tennis attire was in line with society’s general fashion standards. Gradually, performance enhancing features started being introduced, and then tennis fashion evolved into a self-expression of athletes and the brand around their personality.
Bethanie Mattek-Stands, one of the most extravagant WTA players when it comes to on-court outfits, guides us through this evolution of tennis fashion in a very informative video published on USTA’s YouTube channel.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands explains how present-day fashion helps tennis players connect with the audience, improves their performance and self-esteem and how it helped her overcome shyness:
It was a conversation starter. It brought out my creativity. Ultimately it helped me define my personality, even while I was on the court and you weren’t talking with me, you were getting a sense of who I was. It really was a reflection of who I was, on my body.
Early 1900s: How did they even move in those long skirts without stretch?
Suzanne Lenglen and 1920s revolutionized women’s tennis fashion. The Frenchwoman arrived at Wimbledon as a 20-year-old, the first post-war Wimbledon in 1919, wearing what was called “a shockingly skimpy ensemble”, that was borderline “indecent”, but she won the event and became the game’s first major star and “fashion icon”.
Late 1920s to the 1940s: The Hellen Wills Moody “Eyeshade” was a fashion statement in this period. As Bethanie Mattek-Sands notices, this visor was the first boost into performance enhancing in the history of women’s tennis fashion.
1950s: Gussie Moran wore a dress with ruffled, lace-trimmed knickers underneath and they were showing while she played. The designer behind this look was Ted Tinling. It was such a big deal at the time that photographers fought for positions where they could get low shots of Moran. This was the first women’s tennis outfit that greatly resembles WTA fashion that we have today.
1970s: This decade marked the birth of women’s tennis players as professional athletes and tennis fashion went along with it. This was the time we started associating athletes with their personal brand. It was the basis for today’s players to wear what they want, to represent the brands that they do.
1990s: Serena and Venus Williams started shaking up the tennis fashion scene in the 90s and even today they continue to push the boundaries of WTA outfits — Serena with her catsuits, rompers and tutu dresses, Venus with intriguing prints and cuts of her activewear brand EleVen.
Present-day: For a long time, even in recent history, players weren’t allowed to wear pants or leggings, unless specifically approved because of cold weather. Now the rules are much more loose.