Ever since Andre Agassi stepped into the tennis with his ‘rebel’ image, the world has taken an increasing interest in the fashion trends in tennis.
Be it the exotic designer two-piece outfits and tight-fitting Lycra body suits worn by Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams; or the acid-washed jean and Capri pants worn by Agassi and Nadal, the traditional all-white sport has seen a rise in fashion trends in recent times.
But it was interesting to take a look into the some of the boldest fashion statements in tennis history before Agassi began endorsing Canon ‘Rebel’ camera and its tagline “Image is everything.”
In women's tennis, the first major bold fashion statement was made by Suzanne Lenglen in the 1920. She was the first to wear the innovative short tennis dress designed by Patou and it is aptly described by Lord Aberdare in his Story of Tennis:
Suzanne acquired strength and pace of shot by playing with men, and for playing a man’s type of game, she needed freedom of movement. Off came the suspender belt, and she supported her stockings by means of garters above the knee; off came the petticoat and she wore only a short pleated skirt; off came the long sleeves and she wore a neat shortsleeved vest. Her first appearance at Wimbledon caused much comment, but the success of her outfit led to its adoption by others. In her first championship, she wore a white hat but on subsequent occasions she wore a brightly colored bandeau which was outstandingly popular until challenged by Miss Helen Wills’s eyeshade in 1924.
Men’s tennis took fashion centre stage in 1939 when Henry “Bunny” Austen, two times Wimbledon finalist, decided to bare his legs by being the first player to wear shorts in the history of tennis.
In 1949, Gertrude Moran earned herself a 33-year ban when she wore a Ted Tinklin-designed Wimbledon ensemble with laced undergarments, which obviously didn’t go down well with the strict traditionalists.
The sport relaxed its strict traditions in later years, but fashion took the limelight again in 1985, when Anne White stepped on the court dressed head to toe in an opalescent Lycra bodysuit. After one of her matches was delayed by rain, she was told by a referee not to wear the outfit the next day.
But even with Bjorn Borg’s painted-on shorts and Agassi’s rockstar looks with his colorful shirts and acid-washed jeans pants, the sartorial boundaries of Wimbledon didn't bog down as Agassi had to sport 'boring' traditional white dress to compete in it.
In an homage to White, Williams showed up to the '02 U.S. Open dressed to kill in a black body-hugging Lycra cat-suit designed by Puma that left precious little to the imagination (and I mean precious little). Less startling was that she went on to win the tournament.
Though the fashion police at Wimbledon have cracked down in 2006, saying any player wearing low-cut tops, which show too much cleavage and aren't all white, will be sent home, fashion hasn’t taken a backseat in tennis.
Maria Sharapova has since then taken it on herself to lead the fashion parade.
In 2006 US Open, she donned a dress inspired by Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
Last year, she wore the famous “white swan” dress at Wimbledon. The dress was created with the tagline “Pretty Traditional,” which represents its underlying beauty.
Many sports fans believe it was only Sharapova’s beauty which made that ‘hideous’ dress look good, since no one else could have carried it off.
Apart from these major contributors, there have been a few fashion disasters in tennis too, notably Dominic Hrbaty’s peek-a-boo top designed by Lotto. When asked about why he beat Hrabaty in straight sets in NY, Lleyton Hewitt sarcastically responded, 'Didn't wanna lose to a bloke wearing a shirt like that'
Whether Wimbledon breaks its traditions by bowing to fashion power remains to be seen, but until then, the fans will surely not be deprived some bold fashion statements on the tennis court in the rest of the Grand Slams.