THE GRAND SLAM SUCCESSION
PRIYA GULATI & GRACE MALINE
COVER ART: JULIANNA LUKACS
While many tennis enthusiasts cannot wait for the four annual Grand Slam tournaments, a series of competitions featuring the top tennis players in the world, so they can watch their favorite athletes dominate the court, others count down the days until these matches for an alternate reason : to ooh and aww at the fashion choices made among players. One notable player is Serena Williams, a tennis powerhouse who has dominated not only the court, but the fashion world, for multiple decades. Throughout the past century, tennis wear has gradually evolved from simple to superb; however, it all started with a traditional look that still permeates the sport today: tennis whites .
Throughout the early 1900s, women arrived to tennis matches in long-sleeved tops and heel-length maxi skirts, in line with the conservative female wardrobe of this time. Two decades later, the tennis apparel industry experienced what many at the time considered a major step-up. Sleeveless blouses and even knee-length pleated skirts finally brought women a few steps closer to finding the ideal combination of comfort and fashion. Soon, polo shirts entered the realm of acceptable clothing, with high-waisted shorts following closely behind. This allowed for greater mobility amongst the players, increasing the interest in both women’s fashion and tennis viewership. Daring players, such as Lea Percioli, even bent the rules of standard tennis fashion by showcasing short skirts and dresses, even at the expense of revealing what many considered too taboo. Following Percioli’s groundbreaking fashion choices, women’s tennis style kicked off into a new era, ditching the white for color.
Gingham, stripes, and more colorful patterns dominated the tennis scene in the 1960s as women finally found the freedom to express themselves in new ways. As sponsors began partnering with players, and women began campaigning for equal pay, all eyes were on the women’s tennis style; therefore, this era marked a turning point, for style revealed personality, being seen more prominently than ever before. Pioneer Anne White, an American player, shook the tennis world when she debuted at Wimbledon in an all-white spandex catsuit. Yet, it appeared that the officials were not quite ready for this level of fashion freedom, as White was told that she could not continue her matches unless she changed into a more standard outfit. Still, the trailblazing did not cease, as the 1990s featured bright colors, florals, and even eye-catching scrunchies.
Moving into the 2000s, brand endorsements reached new heights. Adidas, Nike, and Puma dressed women from head to toe, and the addition of the Williams sisters to the court brought some of the most powerful changes to tennis fashion in the sport’s history. Entering the past decade, spectators have witnessed the emergence of somewhat scandalous attire: when Venus Williams stepped onto the court in a lace, sheer, black and red dress, the integration of fashion and tennis truly reached new heights. The Williams’ fashion reign only continued, with Serena appearing in an all-black Wakanda-inspired catsuit at the French Open in 2018, where the French Tennis Federation President was seemingly anything but pleased with this groundbreaking outfit—he ultimately banned this form of attire in all future tournaments. Serena later explained in a press conference that the catsuit was intended to keep blood circulating in her legs, as she suffered from blood clots after the birth of her daughter Alexis. She also said, “It feels like this suit represents all the women that have been going through a lot mentally, physically, with their body to come back and have confidence and to believe in themselves.”
Still, Serena continues to ignite a fire that cannot be tamed. While not all of the tennis community may accept the evolving course of fashion in tennis, Williams is determined to end her career on a more tolerant note than when she began. She consistently delivers outstanding outfits that test the limits of what tennis fashion is “supposed” to look like. During the same French Open in 2018, after being told she couldn’t wear the black catsuit, she showed up in a tutu designed by Off-White founder and Louis Vuitton men’s artistic director Virgil Abloh. The internet erupted in praise for Serena’s statement outfit after the controversy over her previous one. Though she had already planned to wear this outfit, it made a statement nonetheless. Abloh designing this look was a way to bring fashion to the forefront at the sporting event. For so long there have been just a few brands dominating the athleticwear sector, but this designer garment let us know that this sector is expanding rapidly. Since the tutu outfit, we’ve seen a lot more high fashion being integrated into activewear. Reebok produced a collaboration of shoes with Maison Margiela, Nike created the “Air Dior” Jordan 1s, and Adidas created a line of Superstars in collaboration with Prada, just to name a few.
In addition to expanding the possibilities of tennis wear, Serena is focused on the meaning behind her outfits, as well. In 2014, she founded S by Serena, a clothing brand with the mission of celebrating the “smart, sexy, sophisticated, strong, and stylist qualities of each customer.” Her business is focused on empowering the women who wear her clothing, which is also a cornerstone of her tennis outfit choices. Serena is a force to be reckoned with, consistently surprising the world with her outfits as well as her business ventures. She’s been a Grand Slam pillar for decades, and will not be stopped anytime soon. Tennis fashion has only progressed with her help, and we can’t wait to see what direction she and the rest of tennis fashion heads in next.