Tennis Identity

Playing on the edge. Tennis fashion highlights in whites.

Although much has been said and written about Wimbledon fashion let’s take a look at some of tennis white’s most edgy fashion milestones. Many happened at Wimbledon where players feel the most restriction. Each change (aka deviation) reflects the era in which the style was played and an opportunity to stand out in a sea of conformity.

Tennis whites got their start in 1877 when competitive tennis players wore white apparel to keep unsightly sweat stains from showing. Long skirts and pants were the norm and there was little deviation. Wimbledon, the oldest tennis tournament in the world, began in this era of whites.

1921: Susanne Leglen created a stir by wearing a sleeveless cardigan, a knee skimming skirt and an orange headband. Her style was reflective of the “Roaring Twenties” flapper style at the time.

1936 (roughly) Bunny Austin was the first man to wear shorts on court. He simply felt he was too hot in pants and bought a pair of running shorts (common for that sport at the time) for an upcoming match.

1947: Ted Tingling, a tennis fashion visionary in his time, added color to the hem of Joy Gannon’s tennis dresses and began to create stand out styles that expressed the individual styles of his customers – at first, always on white.

Tennis fashions in this era began to truly express a lifestyle not available to everyone.

1949: Gertrude “Gussie” Moran  hit the grass in a sleeveless, high necked dress and skirt that exposed lacy undergarments as she moved.

1958: Karol Fegeros shocked in gold lame shorties. The short skirt and under shorties were very similar to swim styles at the time.

1966: Mario Bueno wore a Ted Tinling Dacron dress that exposed Maria’s waist under a clear PVC plastic panel inset in the flared dress. Mod was in style and this was tennis’ take on the trend.

Below, Tinling’s of his later white creations that played on the women’s lib trend. The waistband here spells out ‘Women’s Lib’ and “the letters are surrounded by psychedelic dawn circles to indicate the dawning of a new era.” (via Getty) — Note the Stan Smith shoes.

1986: Anne White wore the much discussed body suit that was inspired by workout fashions of the day. The outfit is one of Wimbledon’s most notorious but it was in synch with workout fashion of the eighties. Take a look at Olivia Newton John’s Let’s Get Physical video.

1997: The beginning of colorful, uniquely expressive accessories. Enter beads on Venus.

2002: Ana Kournikova caused a stir with her belly baring top and skirt.

2004: Serena wore an edgy Nike creation that turned a traditional silhouette on its head with futuristic cut outs and gold lame inserts.

2007: Tattoos begin to appear on court. See below, on Janko Tipsarevic a leader in this trend in tennis. Tattoos are not tennis fashion per se but they do become part of a player’s look and are not (yet) regulated at Wimbledon.

2008: Rafael Nadal wore toreador pants and sleeveless shirts (he actually wore them at all tournaments during this era)

2010: Venus Williams wore her lingerie style Tina Turner-esque fringe dress. This was the last of singular styles at Wimbledon. Marketability of tennis fashions (keeping a price point in mind) has become the dominating force behind today’s creations.

2010: Serena Williams wore rhinestone studded fingernails

2011: Bethanie Mattek Sands wore a Vegas worthy Lady Gaga style jacket (AWESOME), knee socks and eye black stickers (not so awesome).

2013: Bethanie also experimented with colorful hair and knee socks.

2013: Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova were cited for wearing orange, Roger on his soles and the women in shorties – but only showed when players were in motion. SABN (sneak attack by Nike).

Roger Federer orange soles

Serena Williams also added superhero nails in orange, white and black. Nail art was in its earliest stages and players like Serena and Caroline Wozniacki had fun with it.

2014: Wimbledon institutes 10 point check list of style requirements – yawn inducing styles ahead. Designers have only texture and cut to play with.

2015: Nick Kyrgios turns his headband inside out because his Wimbledon headband has too much color (!!!). Come ON.

Kate Boulton

2016: Nike sends in a seamstress to take in its Premier Slam dress, a dress deemed too loose fitting to athletes and revealing to the Wimbledon fashion police.

2016 Wimbledon fashions reset to safe. We have come full circle.

What do you think? Has Wimbledon gotten too fashion restrictive? Could designers do more to push creativity with tennis whites ? Will we have anything to talk about next year or is Wimbledon’s desire to be traditional destined to keep personal expression under control?

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