Clothing, from style to fabric, has changed drastically in the past one hundred years. This counts for tennis as well. Since tennis competition began, apparel wore by tennis players has gone from full-length dresses for women to short skirts, from pants on men to shorts.
Tennis apparel has become so important that there are numerous designers in the business and Wimbledon has now become the stage for tennis fashion as well as play.
Let’s look back in history to see the changes. Starting in the 1860s when women first began playing tennis, the outfit of the day was a heavy material, like flannel or serge. Believe it or not, some women’s tennis apparel included a bustle and sometimes a fur. But that was all changed. In 1884, when Maud Watson won the first Wimbledon Ladies' Championship, white tennis apparel had become the most popular. Why? It was simple – it was all because of sweat. When the trussed-up ladies of the 1890s played in earnest, they wore white because colors revealed sweat stains. This was the start of the tennis whites, which prevailed as acceptable tennis apparel for many decades.
So now that women’s clothing was white, it was time to experiment with styles. When Lottie Dod won Wimbledon, she wore calf-length skirts. But she only got away with it because they were part of her school uniform.
May Sutton, in 1905 won at Wimbledon wearing one of her father's shirts. She claimed it provided extra freedom of movement. She created even a bigger stir when she rolled her sleeves back revealing her wrists. She had complained that the sleeves on her dress were “too long and too hot.”
Hats and bustles went out of style between 1903 and 1914. Dorothea Lambert Chambers, Wimbledon’s seven times champion during this time wore two or three stiff petticoats, as well as corsets with her tennis apparel. This must have been difficult to play in!
Suzanne Lenglen changed tennis apparel again in 1919. She wore a flimsy and revealing calf-length cotton frock with short sleeves and delivered women from the corsets on the court. Ms. Lenglen changed her tennis apparel even more. She added several yards of colored silk chiffon, shiny white stockings that were rolled to her knees, and a headband. She created quite a stir on the court with her new tennis apparel.
It seemed that the women who dominated Wimbledon set the fashion mood for other tennis players who followed. Before the Second World II, Helen Wills Moody dominate Wimbledon for 14 years. She made the golf-style eyeshade a fashionable addition to tennis apparel and also wore the familiar school-type white blouse and pleated skirt. On cool days, she stopped her tennis apparel with a lambswool cardigan.
Today’s game not only embraces new fashion as well as color beyond white, but also sophisticated fabrics. Performance fabrics that include Coolmax™ and Wickaway™ are available in a wide range of knits and colors. People on and off the court enjoy these performance fabrics not just because they are utilitarian but also comfortable while relaxing or playing.
Where will the future of tennis apparel go for men and women? Who can tell, but it should be interesting to see its potential.