Today’s grand slam matches are more than just prestigious, action-packed tennis spectaculars. Events like Wimbledon, the French Open and the US Open have also evolved into important fashion events, where the world’s top players display the latest sports apparel from their sponsors.
Tennis apparel is a multi-million dollar business in the world today, with designers emphasising the feminine attributes of the players on the WTA Tour. However, this was not always so, as at the dawn of women’s tennis, the emphasis had been on distracting spectators from the somewhat controversial fact that members of the fairer sex were playing the game at all.
The first women tennis players were basically indistinguishable from the females watching them from the crowd. In the interest of decency, players were required to wear full-length dresses. These were constructed from the heaviest possible materials in order to prevent spectators from being exposed to the sight of rogue ankles or wrists. The earliest tennis clothes were all white, as this colour was thought to be most effective in hiding perspiration.
Change was slow to come to fashion in women’s tennis. While men continued to labour away in full-length trousers, women attempted to make the game easier for themselves by divesting themselves of hats, and bustles (the stiff corset like garments attached to the back of their dresses). A small revolution took place when female players started using men’s shirts, even daring to roll back the sleeves to cope with the heat.
During World War Two the practise of wearing stockings was dropped by many European women, due to the shortage in availability of this item of clothing. The use of heavy stockings remained strictly optional after the war, and women in tennis preferred the trend of going about their business bare legged. Women replaced stockings with baggy white shorts underneath their dresses. While these ‘panties’ were hardly risqué by today’s standards, they did cause an outrage at the time.
Despite the massive changes in tennis apparel for women during the post-war years, it was only relatively late in the 20th century that the idea of wearing colours became popular amongst women players. In the 1980s players like Chris Evert started wearing brightly coloured outfits, which became increasingly form hugging as players recognised that both press and fans had come to expect boundaries to be pushed in women’s tennis fashions.
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