This pass week there was a crossroads of two popular events in New York City; the 2018 US Open and New York Fashion Week. It was a very appropriate interchange as lately there seems to be more attention to the ladies fashion choices at major tennis opens than their game (except for the finals women’s match where the public was stunned by Serena William’s major upset, her response and her fine for violations that have been deemed as sexist).
Recently Bernard Giudicelli, the President of the French Tennis Federation (FTF), damned the black catsuit that Serena rocked in the French Open as, “disrespectful to the game”. Giudicelli is currently working on implementing a stricter dress code in the future for the French Open. This is surprising considering France is synonymous with fashion making one think the FTF would if not encourage at least be fine with Serena’s tennis catsuit. However let's not forget this is the country where they restrict women from wearing Burqas. Serena William’s catsuit, designed by Nike, was not only meant to be fashionable but to be functional as the form fitting outfit helps Serena’s blood circulation. Serena Williams has a serious medical condition of blood clotting that almost proved fatal when she gave birth to her first child and the catsuit works to prevent her condition from reoccuring.
Serena said she felt like a “Warrior Princess” when she wore her catsuit outfit however it wasn’t the first time a catsuit had been worn at a major tennis tournament. In 1985 tennis player Anne White made the tennis officials at Wimbledon clutch their pearls when she wore an all white catsuit with leg warmers (remember it was the 80’s). It was politely suggested she change her outfit for her remaining matches (which she did).
Just recently at the 2018 US Open, tennis player Alize Cornet courted controversy when after an outfit change due to extreme heat, she realized her top was on backwards. After moving court side, Cornet quickly removed her top briefly exposing her black sports bra. The chair umpire informed her that she would receive a code violation for removing her shirt on the court (something male players seem to do without any rebuke).
The incident caused an immediate media uproar identifying the sexist action forcing the United States Tennis Association to rapidly issue an apology to Cornet. They stated that she did not break any rules and will not receive a violation. Although it may not have been the chair umpire’s intention to bring upon so much attention to her tennis outfit, that is what is the match is being ultimately remembered for and not the formable game she played.
This year at the 2018 US Open we saw Serena Williams start off her first match by displaying her love for fashion in a one sleeve tutu by Nike with fishnets stockings that was not only stylish but enhanced the fluidity of her movements while playing. Throughout her matches she delightfully surprised the audience with her fashion aplomb which on any other player would have dominated the attention but with her magnificent sportsmanship we can easily recall her moves on the court as well.
Women’s tennis wear has been able to evolve throughout the ages otherwise women players would still look like Victorian ladies, covered in long white dresses with puffy sleeves. Throughout the last 140 years as women’s rights and fashion evolved so did the tennis outfits and their rising hemlines. Although there was always guidelines and rules during tournaments, it was women players throughout the ages taking chances in fashion that gradually led to what women players can wear today.
With the advancement of technology in textiles for sportswear both women and men should be allowed to wear outfits that help improve their game with comfort and ease. The reason Wimbledon players donned tennis whites in the first place was because you can see perspiration less with white, yet with the advancement of textiles Wimbledon is still fanatical with rules on tennis whites. If a particular fabric or particular style helps you perspire less and play better, why shouldn’t a player wear it?
Fashion is a reflection of our civilization and culture. Monitoring and policing professional tennis tournaments at this point in contemporary society is not an example of evolving. There is a reason Athleisure wear is all the rage now; women want to go about their day looking as stylish as they can but not sacrifice comfort, why would this be any different for sports? Luckily brands such as Nike, Adidas, Lululemon, Athleta and outstanding rising NYC based fashion forward brand Inphorm are spearheading the evolution of combining fashion and function. While tennis associations can always provide guidelines for their players hopefully they will be open minded enough especially in the #MeToo age to regard a woman’s right to not be told what they should wear.
When tennis associations (or any sport association) decide to let up on strict rules and regulations regarding the fashion aspect of sports wear perhaps in the future it will not be first thing that people or the media pay attention to but the player's sportsmanship and talent. Fashion could then be the secondary fun topic it was always meant to be.
By Natalie Rivera