Wimbledon may be over, but a period of reflection is often needed once a major event has taken place. What did you take from this year’s annual sporting extravaganza? Did you gasp in awe at the speed Petra Kvitova stormed to victory? Or marvel at the resilience of Djokovic in the five-set nail-biting men’s finale? Perhaps, just perhaps, you were more interested in the players’ attire…
Once upon a time, this annual championship was solely about sport, but has since evolved to become a myriad of well-tailored fashion. Athletes are now more than just athletes – some are icons within the fashion, make-up and even film industries.
There has always been a predominant theme of white in Wimbledon outfits, emphasised by the green backdrop of the tennis courts. Around 1884, a series of questionable ensembles can be seen – from the long, billowed dresses with endless ruffles, to the bowler hats with little bows on top, women have been forced to play in some ridiculous outfits. The long sleeves and high collars allowed little potential for the woman to show their abilities on the court. Not only were the outfits impractical, but the tight corsets that female players were made to wear underneath their dresses allowed for very little movement.
However, the lace trims and copious layers were soon ditched, with women leaving behind long-sleeved dresses in favour of two-piece outfits. The short-sleeved tops were normally paired with a short cotton skirt that came to just below the knee. Pleats became a huge trend within the fashion/sports world, and are still a feature in today’s ensembles.
French tennis player Suzanne Leglen paved the way for other woman players after her daring outfit at the 1926 Wimbledon championship. A series of outfits followed that showed how far women had come within not just the sports world, but both politically and socially. As time went on, women’s outfits became more daring, from skirts above the knee to unbuttoned, collared shirts.
The representation of women in sport took a pivotal turn in 1949, when designer Ted Tinling dressed Gertrude Moran for that year’s championship, with the daring hemline of her high-waisted skirt allowing Moran’s lace underwear to peep through every time she moved!
After this, skirts became much shorter, and outfits became tighter. Not only was this a way for the players to perform effectively, but it allowed women to be on more of an equal footing to their male counterparts. Breathable fabrics were soon developed that allowed women much more freedom and their own sense of style.
The focus was soon off the tennis and more on to what the players were wearing, with Anna Kournikova wearing tight fabric cut in an A-Line shape. This simple but effective way of playing with clothing allowed for the women’s figures to be seen; the short skirts not only allowed for more movement from the player, but the subtle cuts within the hem line added bags of style. Brands became ever-popular as players began to adorn their outfits with logos.
In summer 2008, sportswear took a real stride; women were playing around with tailoring and were starting to wear jewellery. Necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings have become noticeable additions to the outfits worn by Venus and Serena Williams, who take pride in their gold accessories. Maria Sharapova demonstrates how the subtle tailoring of a shirt and shorts doesn’t hinder performance, with pleats and gold logos showing how practical sportswear tailoring can be.
Tennis is increasingly being recognised for its fashionable debuts and reputable designer collaborations. From Ralph Lauren to Sergio Tacchini, designers from all around the world are leaping at the chance to dress these athletes. Interestingly, sport is now starting to influence designers. The increasingly popular fashion sub-sector “Sports-Luxe” can not only be seen at fashion shows, but on the high street. The big question now is: what will influence fashion next?
Words: Deanna Miles
Image: Madison Lewis