A History of Women's Fashion in Tennis

Women’s history in tennis is one of scandal, shock, and pushing the boundaries in the name of all women. What started as an upper-class game quickly became a battleground for women who just wanted to play the game they loved. Clothing was both a barrier and an opportunity for powerful women to make a name for themselves on the court. The history of tennis style is about freedom, not caring about the opinions of others. Their opinions don’t win matches. 

Tennis Style: A Stuffy Start

In the 19th century, upper-class women of Victorian society were forced to emphasize appearance over comfort, even during recreational activities. During tennis games, men wore blazers and flannel trousers, giving them a bit of mobility, while women had to wear corsets and long kilt skirts, not because it helped them during the game, but because it was the norm. But lawn tennis was one of the few places where men and women could mingle, and it quickly became a potential place for meeting romantic partners. Flirting was common, so tennis dress style was taken into consideration from the start to impress everyone who might be on (or off) the court. 

A painting of a Victorian woman playing tennis
Source: Victorian Sportswear: Tennis Fashions of the Late 19th Century

The 1887 Wimbledon’s Ladies Singles Championship

These dresses evolved into more of a cohesive uniform, and the tennis style was defined by all-white lawn dresses, featuring lace inserts and elaborate embroidery patterns, and while these outfits were beautiful, they were also not optimal. Tennis style was focused on fashion, and not performance, with many men still dismissing a women’s interest in “taking sports seriously”. This all changed during the 1887 Wimbledon’s Ladies Singles Championships. 


The champion, Charlotte ‘Lottie’ Dod, was only 15 years old and had an advantage over the competition: her tennis outfit. Since Ms. Dod was considered a youth, she was allowed to wear clothing that was not as restricting, wearing calf-length garb more similar to a school uniform. This drew controversy, with many of her opponents stating that her outfit was an unfair advantage. This is a major turning point in the history of tennis, where mobility and agility become talking points. 

           Alala White Breakers Tee

Source: The Daily Mail 

Alala's White Breakers Tee is an evolution of the classic all-white uniform, giving a conservative look a modern buzz. 

The Wimbledon Scandal of 1919 

When it comes to the history of tennis, and women’s roles inside it, Suzanne Lenglen is a legendary name in women’s sports that changed the game of tennis forever, and like most women who’ve made a name for themselves, scandalized the world in the process. Wearing a low-neck dress featuring short sleeves and a calf-length pleated skirt, she shocked the audience by not wearing a corset, a pea coat, or any form of formal boots with heels. She went on to win the tournament, along with the next four Wimbledon championships, two French Opens, and three Olympic medals. She was twenty years old.

Suzanne Lenglen, tennis player
Alala's Serena Tennis Dress

Source: CNN 

The low neck dress and pleated skirt inspired Alala's white Serena Dress.

From Tennis Dress Fashion to Shocking Tennis Shorts 

This evolution continued from the 20s into the 40s and 60s, where fashion was still dominated by a sense of prestige and luxury, but now a couple of inches were cut from the hemline, to help mobility. The tennis star Gertrude “Gussie” Moran helped to set trends with her outfit in 1949. Once again, a tennis star had scandalized audiences in the process. 

As a 25-year-old at the 1949 Wimbledon Championship, she showed up to her first match–deciding not to wear the knee-length skirt considered proper for women’s tennis, opting out for a ruffled top and lace shorts. While she lost the match, she became a worldwide sensation. 

Her fashion-forward thinking and love of glamor helped to bring in a decade of cinched waists, luxurious cardigans, and pleated skirts with an emphasis on the feminine, eventually bringing in the mod mini in the 60s.

Gertrude Gussie Moran, tennis star of the 1950s
Alala's white court shorts
Source: ESPN 

For fast performance on the court, Alala's White Court Shorts were inspired by the short skirts of 50s and 60s women's tennis fashion. 

1973’s Battle of the Sexes 

When it comes to tennis dress fashion in the history of tennis, no one can forget about Billie Jean King and her match against well-known chauvinist Bobby Riggs. By the 60s and 70s, women's fashion in tennis was quickly becoming modernized, prioritizing drip-dry tennis clothes to emphasize performance and maximize comfort. With the help of tennis courtier Ted Tinling, Billie Jean’s tennis dress was a menthol green and sky blue nylon number, an outfit that was both practical and stood out with its stunning colors, reflecting the disco fever that dominated the decade. She won the game, beating Bobby Riggs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. The game, and her outfit, became legendary, helping to push the fact that a women’s tennis dress could be fashionable, and help dominate any man on the court. 

Billie Jean King
Alala's multicolor Ace Tennis Jacket

Source: Britannica

Like Billie Jean King's dress, Alala's multicolor Ace Tennis Jacket is comfortable tennis wear that can look stunning on you . 

It’s a Material World 

Since the 80s, tennis fashion has prioritized the importance of high-quality fabrics. With brand endorsements becoming the norm, and the introduction of polyester and nylon fabrics with a little help from Serena and Venus Williams, tennis style has prioritized using fabrics that are breathable and protect the skin against UV rays alongside designs that garnered attention on the court. The Williams sisters opened up tennis dress fashion by wearing red and black laces, sparkly catsuits, and the help of revealing cuts and adornments to stand out on the court.

Serena Williams
Alala's Eclipse Bra
 Source: Tennis Fashion 
Serena William's iconic cross back design have inspired Alala's Eclipse Bra.
 

Feminine Fashion Forward 

It isn’t a coincidence that revolutionary women scandalized audiences by simply wearing clothing that made them feel comfortable, work harder, and look good. Sexist ideas tried to keep women away from sports, claiming that athletic activities will affect fertility and promote “unwomanlike activities”.  Tennis helped to prove a point: powerful women work hard doing what they do because of their love of the game. This love ended up pushing boundaries to help all modern women, and fashion along with it.