Tennis fashion: a brief history

From everyday tennis shoes to the iconic Fred Perry polo shirt, tennis sportswear has long been influenced by the fashion of the day, and vice versa.  Some players become trendsetters like Bjorn Borg, while others have even gone on to found massive fashion conglomerates like René Lacoste.

Check out our brief history of tennis fashion here to see just what style hits and misses the game has served up over the years. 

Late 1800s
One thing that hasn’t changed over time is skirts, which are still common on the women’s court today. In the late 19th century, women played in dresses with long skirts, corsets and even large sun hats! Not surprisingly, the women’s game was a very gentle and leisurely one at this time. For many years, women continued to play the game in outfits covering virtually the whole body. Men also hit the courts in full-length trousers and shirts. However, the 1860s saw the introduction of rubber soled shoes, which would quickly become a permanent part of the uniform.

At the beginning of the last century, two figures stand out in tennis fashion: Bill Tilden and Suzanne Lenglen. Tilden, widely regarded as tennis’ first male fashion icon. At the time, v-necks or cable-knit sweaters were the norm, accompanied by white flannel trousers. Tilden was known for his mastery of this style as well as his shirts, rolled to the elbows. Lenglen, on the other hand, shocked crowds when she arrived on the Wimbledon court in 1919 in a dress baring her forearms and calves. 

In 1932, England’s Bunny Austin changed the face, and feel, of the game when he wore a pair of shorts to Wimbledon, the first player to do so. Helen Jacobs followed suit for the women’s game the following year. Over the next few decades, these shorts appeared in varying lengths, but were otherwise quite constant.1971-1985During these years, colour came to tennis. Before then, white was the predominant style in the sport, but over the 70s with the introduction of rules allowing colours to distinguish between players. Pastel outfits were common at first, but soon enough the brightly coloured headbands began gracing the brows of the world’s best including Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. This era was also typified by very short shorts among male players.

In 1987 the term ‘tennis bracelet’ came into existence after Chris Evert lost her diamond bracelet on the US Open courts, causing play to be stopped in the search.  And, as the shorts got longer, the colours also got brighter. Fully brightly coloured clothing began making its way into the game and since then many athletes have begun playing fast and loose with the traditional tennis attire. Between Andre Agassi’s famous fashion foibles and such show-stopping garb as Serena Williams’ infamous catsuit or Maria Sharapova’s swarovski crystal-encrusted ensemble, it seems fashion will also be a third player on the court.