The History of Tennis Fashion
Say hello to tenniscore.
by : Heather Taylor-Singh- Jun 19th, 2023
For some, tennis is a sport; for others, it’s an aesthetic. Tennis-inspired fashion, also known as “tenniscore,” has become a recent trend thanks to TikTok and brands like Miu Miu and Celine. Pleats, tightly fitting bodices and skorts are staples of the distinctive style, which is quickly moving from the court to the street.
While there’s an element of luxury to current tennis fashion, its origins aren’t so opulent. In the late 1800s, players were required to wear all white as a symbol of purity and virtue. Men wore cardigans or sweater vests, shirts and flannel pants, while women played in ankle-length corseted white dresses. This was the norm until 1887, when 15-year-old sensation Charlotte Dod wore a white blouse and a calf-length skirt at legendary British tennis competition Wimbledon. While the response was mixed, it was the first time any thought had been given to designing functional tenniswear for women.
But change was slow going, and it wasn’t until 1920 that the sport’s uniform took another leap forward, when French player Suzanne Lenglen made a fashion statement in a sleeveless blouse and calf-length skirt by French designer Jean Patou. This was the start of women’s tennis fashion becoming more relaxed. In the ’30s, women began wearing polo shirts, drop-waist dresses and, occasionally, pieces that cinched the waistline. Short shorts were introduced for women players in the ’50s, which allowed them greater mobility on the court, but the majority of them still wore cinched-waist dresses, cardigans and pleated skorts. Up until this point, most tenniswear was made of cotton, but around the ’70s, designers started to notice a need for more breathable fabrics, so man-made textiles and drip-dry garments entered the scene. British brand Tinling collaborated with beloved player Billie Jean King and her female counterparts for the 1973 Battle of the Sexes match, which was held in support of equal tennis rights for women. It was one of the first instances when a sponsor logo was featured on sportswear—a discreet one on King’s dress—and the designer’s main goal was to make the women’s garments look simple so they wouldn’t pull attention away from the players’ skill sets.
For years afterwards, tenniswear continued to be variations on past pieces. However, in the early aughts, Venus and Serena Williams pushed the boundaries of what could be worn on the court and were among the first to popularize polyester and nylon—both lightweight fabrics that don’t absorb moisture. At the 2002 U.S. Open, Serena not only won the tournament but also drew attention with her shorts catsuit, which was designed by Puma. At the 2010 French Open, Venus impressively wore a lingerie-esque black lace dress with red lining from her fashion label, EleVen. The superstar sisters continued to trailblaze, masterfully combining the worlds of fashion and sports by rocking ultra-feminine looks—sequin-encrusted catsuits, frilly skirts (à la balletcore), high-end jewellery—on the court.
The luxury-fashion world got in on the action in the early 2000s, when, most notably, Chanel debuted a handful of tennis-inspired pieces, including a white polo dress featuring navy-blue piping, which has since become a sought-after vintage piece. Miu Miu’s spring/summer 2005 collection offered a fun take on the trend—the opening look of the runway presentation featured a groovy-patterned blouse and matching pleated skirt, complete with thick headbands and sporty sunglasses. But it wasn’t just high fashion getting in on the game. Mid-luxury brands like Tory Burch and Lacoste put their own spin on the trend with polo shirts and pleated skirts in bold colours, and by 2015, streetwear giant American Apparel made the tennis skirt go mainstream.
On the spring/summer 2023 runways, Miu Miu—known for its recent micro-mini-pleated-skirt domination—debuted a collection dubbed “performcore” featuring versions of sporty clothing, including short shorts and a calf-length tennis skirt, that reference early tennis fashion. American designer Thom Browne, who’s known for his pleated garments, released a new collection of polo dresses that all feature a logo patch—a callback to the days of King. And this past March, Celine announced a summer tennis capsule collection that includes polo tops, monogrammed accessories and, of course, pleated skirts.
It’s clear that tennis-inspired clothing will continue to evolve—for players and fans alike. So whether you’re working on your swing or lounging around in the heat, wearing your best tennis attire is the perfect summer sport.
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