A Brief History of Tennis Apparel at Wimbledon
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In the 127-year history of Wimbledon, the tennis apparel worn by tennis players has changed drastically. The first women to play in the tournament wore full-length dresses as their tennis apparel.
The men's fashion included full-length pants until 1946. Now, players like Serena Williams are making fashion statement everytime they step on to the court with tight-fitting body suits or exotic colored two-piece outfits as their signature tennis apparel.
Women’s designer tennis apparel is now commonplace, especially at Wimbledon, which has been the stage for tennis fashion for longer than realized by most people. Women first began to play tennis in the 1860s. At that time, a heavy material, like flannel or serge, was deemed suitable to wear on the courts. Their tennis apparel included a bustle and sometimes a fur. But that was all changed. In 1884, when Maud Watson won the first Wimbledon Ladies' Championship, white tennis apparel had become the most popular. Why? It was simple - sweat. When the trussed-up ladies of the 1890s played in earnest, they wore white because colors revealed sweat stains. This was the start of the tennis whites, which prevailed as acceptable tennis apparel for many decades.
Although white at that time was still confined to constricting bustled two-piece tennis apparel, many times with a male straw boater. When Lottie Dod won Wimbledon, she wore calf-length skirts. But she only got away with it because they were part of her school uniform.
May Sutton, in 1905 won at Wimbledon wearing one of her father's shirts. She claimed it provided extra freedom of movement. Imagine the stir she caused by revealing her wrists after rolling back the cuffs. She had complained that the sleeves on her dress were “too long and too hot.”
Between 1903 and 1914, women's tennis apparel eliminated the scene hats and bustles. Dorothea Lambert Chambers, Wimbledon’s seven times champion during this time wore two or three stiff petticoats, as well as corsets with her tennis apparel.
In 1919, the first Wimbledon to be staged after the First World War, tennis apparel was changed by Suzanne Lenglen. She wore a flimsy and revealing calf-length cotton frock with short sleeves and delivered women from the corsets on the court. Ms. Lenglen changed her tennis apparel even more. She added several yards of colored silk chiffon, shiny white stockings that were rolled to her knees, and a headband. She created quite a stir on the court with her new tennis apparel.
The next woman to dominate Wimbledon for 14 years before the Second World II was Helen Wills Moody. She made the golf-style eyeshade a fashionable addition to tennis apparel and also wore the familiar school-type white blouse and pleated skirt. On cool days, she stopped her tennis apparel with a lambswool cardigan.
The late 1930s brought the end of the stockings. Tennis apparel became more masculine with the change to tailored flannel shorts and crewneck T-shirts. The men at this time made a change to their own tennis outfits by eliminating their flannels in favor of shorts.
The postwar Wimbledon years began with women wearing sensible clothing which made playing tennis easier. The tennis apparel became a combination of short-sleeved shirts, skirts or shorts and topped by jockey caps. Nothing created more of a stir than when Gertrude Moran played in the 1949 Championships. She wore a regulation white dress trimmed with white satin. Beneath this was a pair of lace trimmed panties. This was the start of the daring fashion statements of tennis apparel that have graced Wimbledon since that time.
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