More than any other sport, tennis has perhaps always managed to seep in a bit of glamor, controversy and iconography with each of its events. As the grass on Center Court gets ready to host the Wimbledon Championships, starting June 20, it’s not just the performances we are looking forward to, but also the courtside fashion.
The tournament has remained much more than a historic tennis competition since its inception in 1877. Reserving a special niche for fashion forward figures and distinguished by its strict wardrobe decree of all whites, from fabric to hemline, Wimbledon fashion is a genre in itself.
The distinguished tennis skirt, popular for its pleats and short hemline, can be traced all the way back to the Victorian era. The first tennis attire was far from its modern counterpart that we see now. With tight corsets, hats and pleated crinoline in tact, the conventional tennis dress wasn’t so much about athleticism. Think characters from a Jane Austen novel or something in line with Bridgeton’s game of Ball Mall in the second season’s episode 3.
Kate Middleton with British tennis player Emma Raducanu at the 2021 Wimbledon.
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It took a long social hiatus for the tennis skirt to reach the skin baring hemline. A skirt above the feet grazing length was outré at the least. Allow some more skin show and you reach the social equivalent of a wardrobe scandal. It wasn’t until 1919 that something nearing an indecent outfit emerged to surface, paving way for more pragmatic tennis outfits. French tennis player Suzzane Lenglen made her Wimbledon debut in a lightweight, short sleeved and low-neck dress with a calf-length skirt. Sans a petticoat and a corset, Lenglen had not only set course to the hallmarked skirt, but also established a pattern of receding skirt hemline through the years.
Of course, in a world of athleisure today, the tennis skirt is not only an on-court uniform but a summer essential. Modern designers find in its pleats a muse while fast fashion brands capitalise on the trend season after season. Remember Miu Miu’s tennis themed autumn/winter 2022 collection? High in comfort, style and luxe, the tennis skirt has become an all-occasion staple. Pair it with strappy sandals, a mini bag and a crop top, and you’ve got yourself the Gen Z it-girl starter pack.
Beyond the skirt
Over the years, iterations of defiant tennis outfits have made headlines. Moving beyond the skirt, athletes, especially women, have sported outfits of comfort. Serena Williams, for instance, wore a black catsuit in 2018 French Open. Covering her legs and missing a skirt, the outfit resulted in a lot of chatter in the sports and fashion world. Her sister, Venus Williams, too, once donned a jumpsuit on court.
The Queen presenting the ladies’ singles trophy to Althea Gibson at The Championships 1957.
The Wimbledon tournament in particular has maintained its ubiquitous cultural and fashion currency over the years. Doused in whites, the courtside fashion at Wimbledon is a perfect harmony of summer-friendly hues, designer labels and chic silhouettes. Late Princess Diana’s trench dresses and suits in the 80s and 90s had a perennial charm of their own–a legacy that Kate Middleton has inherited rather naturally. Be it her Alexander McQueen numbers in the royal box or monochrome outfits, the Duchess manages to take the highlight each year. Personalities like Victoria Beckham and Anna Wintour make an au courant appearance and partake in a historic traditionalism. In all accord, Wimbledon becomes a touchstone for fashion moments.
Kate Middleton in a green monochrome look at the 2021 Wimbledon final
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