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Early in the 19th Century it was not considered important for women to win at competitive sports, so clothes were not designed to give them the freedom of movement to improve their game.
When women first began to play tennis in the 1860s they played in long skirts made of flannel or serge, some had a bustle and some even played in furs. They also wore tight-sleeved jackets and hats and the restrictive clothing was worn until 1910.
It was Mavis Watson, a 19-year-old vicar's daughter who first introduced all white into the game, as the colour absorbed the sweat more easily. When she beat her sister Lillian in the 1884 Wimbledon Final she was dressed head-to-toe in white, although her bustled two-piece costume still restricted her movement.
Three years later 15-year-old Lottie Dodd wore a calf-length skirt which was considered acceptable because it was part of her school uniform. It was American Mary Sutton who first shocked the conservative officials of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in 1905. She was used to wearing one of her father's shirts when practising in the sunny climes of California, so she wore it to play at Wimbledon but officials looked on in disapproval when she rolled up her sleeves and revealed her wrists.
But the disapproval in 1905 was nothing compared to the reaction that French Player Suzanne Lenglen caused when she won the first post-war Wimbledon Championships in 1919. The "Goddess of the Tennis Court" wore a flimsy and revealing calf-length cotton frock with short sleeves. To this she added yards of coloured chiffon, and a headband instead of a hat. She finished it off with shiny white stockings rolled to the knee. She struck a blow for feminism that day and tennis fashion was changed forever, by 1930 it was acceptable for ladies to play without a hat.
Alice Marble was the next player to shock the officials when she strode on to the court at Wimbledon wearing shorts. If Lenglen's outfit was frowned upon by the elite club members, Marble's shorts were considered to be a tragedy.
But worse was to come. In 1949 the American player Gussie Moran asked to be allowed to wear a coloured outfit at Wimbledon but her request was refused, so she approached the famous tennis designer Teddy Tinling. Since 1947 Tinling had been producing waffle pique flared dresses as he wanted to put feminity back into tennis.
He designed some lace-trimmed knickers for Moran which peeped out below her skirt. Her outfit sent shockwaves round Wimbledon and the crowd gasped when she walked on court. Photographers lay on their stomachs to get a better view and the next morning her picture was on the front page of every newspaper in the world.
Her appearance led to the openly gay, sometime umpire being sacked from his job at Wimbledon as player-liaison and Master of Ceremonies.
It was French designer Jean Parou who produced short skirts and got people used to wearing them, but it was Tinling who made tennis dresses fashionable, designing unique and daring outfits for tennis greats like Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Virginia Wade and Evonne Goolagong.
Tinling outfits were glamorous and all the girls wanted to wear them, they had frills and subtle colours and for one year Wimbledon did relax the all-white rule. But they were shocked by some of the outfits and decided to go back to the traditional white. Playing at Wimbledon is like attending an old-fashioned garden party and the all-white rules fits in with the genteel atmosphere.
At all the other major tournaments anything goes and the outfits have got more and more outrageous. At the 2010 French Open Venus Williams, who is trained as a fashion designer, wore a dress inspired by the film Moulin Rouge. It was a black corset with red piping and a black net skirt. She contrasted it with flesh-coloured panties and she looked as if she was naked from the waist down.
The Williams' Sisters are known for their outrageous outfits and at the 2004 U.S. Open Serena wore a blue denim skirt and knee high denim boots. When officials refused to allow her to wear the boots on court she swapped them for black socks and shoes.
At the 2006 U.S. Open Maria Sharapova wore a tight black dress with a slit down the back that she said was inspired by Audrey Hepburn. Bethanie Mattek wore gold lame at the U.S. Open in 2007. In another match she donned leopard skin.
Tennis clothing is now an advertisement for the firms who manufacture them and sponsor the various players, but the tennis court is also a fashion show for the new breed of beautiful young players rising through the ranks.
The men, too, are joining in with World Number One, Rafael Nadal, wearing white knee-length Capri pants, teamed with a bright blue top and matching shoes at the 2005 Australian Open.
Andre Agassi was ahead of his time when he wore denim jean shorts at the 1991 French Open and at the 2005 French Open Dominic Hbarty wore a backless shirt with a pink front.
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