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Wimbledon Style and an Abridged History of Tennis Fashion

by Madeline Anderson

When it comes to the crossover between professional sports and fashion, you would be hard pressed to find a more influential sport than tennis. 

Fashion trends have been cropping up on tennis courts for well over a century, introducing us to a number of now ubiquitous clothing items like the tennis skirt or polo shirt. 

As an individual sport, tennis affords players a lot of opportunities to showcase their personal styles and identities, creating space for athletes to capture public consciousness when coming up against the sport’s somewhat stuffy, and at times conservative, rules and traditions.

Over the years, tennis has churned out a great number of stars who were able to translate their on-court success into off-court endorsement deals, designer collaborations, and a bona fide celebrity status. It’s not uncommon to see top designers tap tennis players to serve as brand ambassadors nowadays – think Jannik Sinner for Gucci or Naomi Osaka for Louis Vuitton.

Just days into the opening round of Wimbledon 2024 and we’ve already had some great style moments from players like Sinner, who strode onto the court sporting his signature Gucci x Head duffle bag before his opening contest against Yannick Hanfmann. Ahead of the tournament, the current world #1 was already commanding attention over his ties to Gucci by attending a star-studded dinner in London as the fashion house’s guest of honour, alongside A-listers like Salma Hayek and Ryan Gosling. 

Meanwhile, Marta Kostyuk stole hearts as she played in a beautiful custom Wilson tennis dress, designed to emulate her wedding dress, in her first-round victory over Rebecca Šramková. If these first few days are a sign of things to come, then we’re in for some iconic fashion moments. 

As Wimbledon gets underway for another year, it seems as good a time as any to take a look back at some of the athletes who helped turn tennis into such a trendsetting sport, and unpack a few of the times tennis fashion found itself making headlines - for better or for worse.

The world’s first ‘celebrity athlete’

Suzanne Lenglen (1919)

In 1919, 20-year-old Suzanne Lenglen stepped onto the court at Wimbledon for the first time, and completely turned the game on its head. 

The First World War had delayed Lenglen’s debut on the international circuit for five years, but the French athlete was entirely undeterred, winning the tournament in 1919 which marked the first of five consecutive victories. 

Her Wimbledon debut was noted in almost equal parts for her athletic dominance, as well as her untraditional and iconic approach to Wimbledon’s strict, all-white dress code.

Lenglen appeared in her first match wearing a calf-length skirt, short sleeves, and a floppy hat. While this may not sound particularly scandalous by today’s standards, Lenglen came up in an era when female tennis players were expected to adhere to a uniform consisting of a corset, blouse, and a floor-length skirt. Her reproach of traditional tennis garb caught the public’s attention, quickly finding its way into the mainstream. The ‘Lenglen bandeau’, a scarf she often fastened around her head with a jewelled pin while playing, became a hallmark of 1920s fashion.

As a player, Lenglen was dynamic and entirely willing to forgo the prim and proper image associated with tennis at the time in order to score points and win matches. 

She played with her heart on her sleeve, putting her personality on show – something that attracted audiences, and brought in new fans. People were enamoured with Leglen’s ability, style, and individuality, and she skyrocketed to heights of fame unknown to female tennis players at the time, turning her into the sport’s first celebrity athlete and laying the groundwork for countless athletes to follow in her footsteps.

Tennis takes the high street

René Lacoste and Fred Perry (1933, 1952)

In the 1920s and 30s, men’s tennis was moving in a fresh direction. Gone were the days of impractical, uncomfortable clothing. In their place: René Lacoste and Fred Perry, two of the most well-known players of all time - both on the court and the high street. 

During their careers, Lacoste and Perry won seven and eight Grand Slams apiece, and were each responsible for the introduction of modern tennis sartorial mainstays – the polo shirt, and the sweatband, respectively.

In 1933, Lacoste was said to have cut the sleeves off a long-sleeved button down to allow for freer movement, and never looked back. Alongside André Grillier, he founded his namesake label that same year. 

Nicknamed ‘The Crocodile’ by the American press after betting his team captain a crocodile skin suitcase that he would win his match, Lacoste began manufacturing short-sleeved collared shirts adorned with a small crocodile emblem and popularised the style in men’s tennis.

Ninety-one years later, the brand still sells clothing, as well as footwear, eyewear, perfume, sportswear, towels, and watches. It also sponsors current world #2 and 24-time Grand Slam winner Novak Djokovic.

As for Perry, he didn’t venture into fashion until his playing career concluded in the late 1940s, when he collaborated with Austrian football player Tibby Wegner to create the world’s first sweatband. 

The pair went on to design the Fred Perry tennis shirt, launching at Wimbledon in 1952 to immediate success. Similar in style to Lacoste’s tennis shirts, Perry’s version featured a laurel wreath logo. The brand enjoyed popularity among UK alternative cultures and subcultures throughout the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, becoming associated with mods, skinheads, and later, the National Front. It surged in popularity once more in the late ‘90s and early-to-mid 2000s after being reclaimed by artists like Blur, Amy Winehouse, Arctic Monkeys, No Doubt, and The Streets. 

Fred Perry opted not to sponsor as many athletes as Lacoste did – Andy Murray was the sole athlete on its books from the start of his career in 2005 until he signed with adidas in 2009. As fate would have it, in 2012 Murray would become the first British man to win a single’s title at a Grand Slam since Perry himself won the men’s singles title at Wimbledon in 1936.

Christening the ‘tennis bracelet’ 

Chris Evert (1978)

Chris Evert, 18-time Grand Slam winner and former world #1, dominated women’s tennis for much of the ‘70s and ‘80s. 

Known for her steely demeanour and elegant style of play, she was nicknamed ‘Ice Princess’ by the press and is widely recognised as one of the best players of all time. 

Evert’s on-court style is evergreen with many of her ensembles still relevant in fashion today, particularly the white lace dress she wore at her first US Open in 1971 when she was just 16 years old.

Unlike a lot of players at the time, Evert didn’t always wear sweatbands. Instead, she chose to wear delicate bracelets on her wrists during matches. 

In 1978, she became known for an on-court incident where her bracelet flew off her wrist during a rally, prompting her to halt the match to look for it. After that, the particular style of diamond line bracelet worn by Evert became known as a ‘tennis bracelet.’ 

In 2022, more than 40 years after coining the term, Evert released her own line of tennis bracelets in collaboration with high jeweller Monica Rich Kosann, in a bid to reclaim the narrative around the famous incident.

“Since then, everyone has come out with a tennis bracelet and I thought, ‘I’ve never been able to own the story in my own voice and the story about how it was born,” Evert explained in an interview with Women’s Wear Daily. 

She also took the opportunity to deny the long-lasting rumour that the bracelet she lost in 1978 was a gift from ex-fiancé and former American tennis star Jimmy Connors, whom she was linked to in 1974. “Who told you it was from an ex-boyfriend?” she continued. “I believe I probably bought it myself.”

Double denim

Andre Agassi (1988) and Serena Williams (2004)

If we had a nickel for every documented instance of denim being worn by a player during a Slam, we’d have two nickels, which isn’t a lot, but it’s cool that it happened twice, right?

The players in question are certified fashion icons and former world number #1’s, Andre Agassi and Serena Williams.

In the early stages of his career, Agassi became known for his unconventional looks, namely his signature mullet (which was later revealed to be a wig, but we don’t have time to get into that) and his bold, colourful outfit choices. 

In 1988, 18-year-old Agassi took to the court at the US Open wearing acid wash denim shorts, a trend that didn’t catch on but became iconic nevertheless and inspired Williams to later incorporate denim into a line she designed with Nike in 2004.

In her 2004 US Open quarterfinal matchup against Jennifer Capriati, the then-23-year-old Williams wore a studded black crop top and denim tennis skirt, paired with a studded wristband to match her top. 

Admittedly, the denim used to create the skirt appears to be far more purpose-built than Agassi’s shorts, despite both being engineered by Nike. 

In another one of her US Open matches that year, Williams made headlines for playing in sleek knee-high Nike boots, which would fit comfortably on many Pinterest boards in 2024. She would go on to repeat the boot look at the Australian Open in 2005, this time in a neon green and white colourway.

When asked about the inspiration behind the denim look, Williams said: “…I actually designed this line. I thought to myself, ‘What does everyone wear?’ I'm thinking to myself jeans. What do I wear? I wear jeans. I wear, you know, these comfortable fabrics. I kept thinking – my mind kept going back to jeans. I just signed with Nike. I thought, 'Andre Agassi in 1990 was wearing jeans.' And I thought, who could do it better than Nike?”

The Greatest of All Time

Serena and Venus Williams (1994 – ?)

Serena’s denim look is just the tip of the iceberg. The Williams sisters have too many incredible fashion moments to list. We’d be here all day.

Throughout their legendary careers, Serena and Venus Williams changed tennis for the better after making their professional debuts in the mid-90s as teenagers. 

Serena would go on to win 23 Grand Slam women’s single’s titles, while Venus picked up seven. The pair combined for a total of 122 women’s singles titles, and eight Olympic gold medals – one each for women’s singles, and three for doubles, all won together.

Together, the Williams sisters are widely credited with fostering greater diversity in tennis and women’s sports at large. They popularised the more powerful and athletic style of play seen nowadays on the women’s professional tennis tour – look no further than current world #1 Iga Świątek to see the enduring influence the Williams sisters maintain at the highest level of the sport. 

Notably, Serena's black catsuit at the 2018 French Open was more than a fashion statement. Just as the all-white rule highlighted gender issues, the practicality of tennis-wear has long needed to be challenged. Designed specifically to prevent blood clots after Serena gave birth to her daughter eight months prior, the sleek outfit was a testament to her strength and determination. 

Despite its functional purpose, officials disallowed the catsuit, leading to a ban on such attire at the French Open. Nevertheless, Serena's choice remains iconic, highlighting her unwavering spirit both on and off the court and the need for wider conversations around accommodation. 

Venus Williams made her own mark in the fashion world with her line, EleVen. Launched to bring high performance and stylish activewear to the masses, EleVen reflects Venus’s personal flair and commitment to excellence. The brand offers a range of athletic apparel that is both functional and fashionable, embodying the same drive and elegance that Venus displays on the court.

Serena announced her retirement in 2022, going out in a blaze of Swarovski crystals at the US Open, while Venus has yet to formally announce the conclusion of her illustrious career. They’re among the greatest to ever do it, and to say they did it with style would be almost a cruel understatement. 

It would take too long to keep rattling off all their best style moments, but here are a few:

- Serena’s Puma bodysuit at the US Open in 2002

- Serena’s Nike warm-up trench coat at Wimbledon in 2008


- Venus’ cancan-inspired lace dress from her own fashion line, EleVen, at the French Open in 2010

- Venus’ white fringe EleVen dress at Wimbledon in 2010

- Serena’s Nike blazer at Wimbledon in 2014

- Serena’s one-shoulder purple and brown Nike x Virgil Abloh tutu dress at the US Open in 2018

- Venus’s green and white EleVen skirt and crop top at the US Open in 2022

- Venus’ purple EleVen corset-style ensemble at the ASB Women’s Classic in 2023

Small victories

Wimbledon relaxes its all-white dress code (2023)

Wimbledon is the oldest, and perhaps the most prestigious tournament in tennis. It pre-dates the other three Slams by up to 28 years, and awards the highest prize money out of the four majors – this year’s men and women’s singles title winners will take home £2,700,000 each, putting the total prize money around a record £50,000,000. 

But Wimbledon is also known for being somewhat stuffy and old-fashioned, owing in part to its all-white dress code which dates all the way back to the tournament’s first years in the late 1800s. 

At the time, sweating was considered improper, so players were required to wear white to avoid showing sweat marks on their clothing. While other tournaments relaxed their rules over the years, Wimbledon remained stuck in the mud, and enforced all-white dress code for 146 years. The specificity of the dress code is almost mind-boggling; the rules on the website list details down to the centimetre, denoting that players can have a single trim of colour down the outside of seams of shorts, skirts, caps, headbands and socks of no wider than an inch. It also dictates that “white does not include off white or cream.”

So, it came as a welcome surprise to many when the tournament finally decided to ease up its rules in 2023, altering the rules so female players were able to wear solid dark-coloured undershorts, provided they are no longer than their shorts or skirt. 

The change was reportedly made to ease concerns of players who are on their period. At the time, All England Club CEO Sally Bolton said: “It is our hope that this rule adjustment will help players focus purely on their performance by relieving a potential source of anxiety.”

The move was praised by many players including Coco Gauff, who last summer told Sky Sports the rule change would “relieve a lot of stress” for her during the competition. “I really support it a lot,” she said. “It’s going to be a big relief. I was on my period last year during Wimbledon and it was very stressful. I mean, you have the period underwear and stuff to help you but it’s still in the back of your mind.”

Though this was the first permanent instance of Wimbledon changing its all-white rule, the tournament temporarily relaxed its dress code one other time in recent memory, when it allowed players to wear yellow and blue ribbons to show support for Ukraine after Russia’s invasion in 2022. Ribbons were worn by top players including Iga Świątek, and Ukrainian players Lesia Tsurenko and Anhelina Kalinina.

Looking the part 

Challengers (2024)

There was no way we could make it through a tennis and fashion deep dive without bringing up Challengers. 

The film, directed by Luca Guadagnino and starring Zendaya, is one of the most talked about films of the year in large part thanks to the fashion moments that came along with it. 

During the press tour, Zendaya teamed up with her stylist Law Roach to serve a gamut of tennis-inspired looks, with standouts being her Thom Browne dress from the London premier, adorned with tennis rackets, and her Loewe gown worn at the Australian premier, which featured a glittering outline of a tennis player across the skirt and bodice.

Loewe played a significant part in the fashion firestorm that followed Challengers’ release as Jonathan Anderson, the fashion house’s creative director, served as costume designer for the film. 

Yes, many of the costumes featured in the film were Loewe designs, so no, you probably can’t afford to buy the ‘I Told Ya’ shirt worn by Zendaya and Josh O’Connor’s Tashi and Patrick. It costs £225.

An iconic moment both in the film and on the red carpet, with odes across the cast’s shirts and styling, the garment is based off of a t-shirt that John F. Kennedy Jr. donned back in the 90s.

Famously photographed by paparazzi wearing the shirt, which itself was a reference to the "I Told You So" buttons created for his father's 1960 presidential inauguration, it symbolised the victorious spirit of Kennedy's supporters.

According to Anderson, this homage to JFK Jr. was deliberate. He explained that his ‘80s and ‘90s fashion sense, characterised by his style’s "old-money nonchalance" and “effortlessness,” influenced the character of Patrick, played by O'Connor. 

In an interview with W Magazine Anderson noted, "He could wear anything, and sex appeal would always be there." This translated into Patrick's look being a mix of casual and high-end, with items like an old yet still expensive wallet adding to his ad-hoc, pieced-together appearance, reflecting his position as a non-endorsed, underdog tennis player.

On working with Zendaya, Anderson also commented that she “has the ability to engage with people in a way that is very strange compared to other celebrities. She becomes part of something larger - it’s not just fashion, it’s popular culture.”

Edited by Emily Duff

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