The women who changed the aesthetics of tennis
From Victorian dresses to the Williams sisters. Who revolutionized women’s tennis?
Corsets, busts, skirts that touched the ground. Women’s tennis in the Victorian era left no room for creativity and freedom of expression. However, time has radically changed the idea of women’s tennis outfits. This change is the result of unique moments, of some figures who have bravely decided to break social and visual taboos, trampling the grass of Wimbledon and the courts of the Slams dressed in novelty, rebellion, evolution.
Here we have decided to list some of the women capable of changing the imaginary of sportswear, often running into criticism and boycotts: idealists driven by a feminist wind, by a progressive current. Athletes who have raised their sport not only with the racket.
The French ‘Divine’ who dominated tennis in the 1920s, winning 25 Grand Slam titles, one Olympic gold medal in Antwerp and losing only 7 career games. She was the first female tennis celebrity. She was an inexhaustible magnet of attention for the French and international press: her revolutionary game, her passion for the glamorous world and the moody intensity shown on the court, led the large masses to follow women’s tennis.
In particular, in the grand white gala of Wimbledon 1920, Lenglen surprised organizers and spectators with a dress that left the forearms and calves uncovered: an incomprehensible choice for the time. At that London tournament, the ‘Divine’ was also observed drinking brandy at the end of each set.
She stopped playing when she was just 27: “In the twelve years I was a champion I earned millions of francs, and I spent all the money just to travel and play tournaments. I didn’t earn a cent from my career, from tennis. According to absurd and antiquated ideas, only a rich person can compete at a high level. Does this seem right to you?”, these were her laconic words.
Moran was a player certainly far from Lenglen’s extraordinary results. This Californian athlete is crystallized in sporting history for a particular crossover that took place at Wimbledon ’49.
The American athlete, then 26, asked the famous designer Ted Tinling to design the first short dress in the history of women’s tennis. Strictly white, as required by Wimbledon regulations, Moran’s dress was created to highlight her sporty panties with lace cuffs.
It was a huge scandal, and the exhibition of the renamed ‘Gorgeous Gussie’ even reached the British Parliament. The first inspiring muse of Tinling, a genius also closely linked to the Italian Lea Pericoli, was accused by the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club of having introduced “vulgarity and sin in tennis”.
Billie Jean King
Let’s go back to the tennis elite. We cannot avoid naming the immense Billy Jean King, winner of 78 WTA titles and, above all, a legendary figure in the fight against sexism both in society and in sport.
During the September 20, 1973 match played against Bobby Riggs, the most important of the three chapters of the tennis ‘Battle of the Sexes’ (recently transposed to the big screen), King wore a dress designed by the aforementioned Ted Tinling.
That outfit became a symbol of women’s tennis revenge: a revenge certified by King’s victory against Riggs, in front of over 30 thousand present and 90 million people in front of the television.
Wimbledon, 1985 edition: when Anne White took a leap into the future. The American athlete showed up in the green temple of world tennis with a one-piece suit, branded Pony, entirely made of Lycra. The outfit enchanted audiences and photographers, and sparked a huge wave of controversy.
The match was stopped on an even set, as evening fell, and the referee ordered White to change clothes for the following day. White agreed to the request and lost the game. The photos of her ‘space’ suit, however, were published by all the major newspapers in the world.
Venus & Serena Williams
Another time jump, this time directly into the 21st century, where a pair of sisters was able to collect all these flashes from the past, to uniting them and to freeing the bodies of their colleagues from aesthetic preconceptions and demonizations.
Lingerie and colors, personality and elegance, Reebok and Nike: this is how Venus and Serena have definitively broken down the wall of tennis visual orthodoxy, elevating the concepts of freedom and athletic femininity, embellishing them with over 300 (combined) weeks spent at the top of the WTA rankings.
Atypical and iconic, like their path, which began in the difficult Compton area: a long march between stereotypes and prejudices.
Sources & Credits
Photos sources: https://rudighedini.wordpress.com/2016/05/06/divina-gianni-clerici-su-suzanne-lenglen-2002/
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