Game, set, chic.
Let’s be honest, there is nothing cute about sweating and it is incredibly difficult to run in stilettos. For these reasons, fashion and athletics have been at odds since 1480, when the tennis ball was invented, right through 1921, when Gucci was born. Up until recently, athletes and fashionistas were just fine with that. Lately, however, the fashion world has developed a love-love relationship with the game of tennis. Designers are beginning to realize that if you subtract the sweat and get rid of the rackets, what you are left with is a sleek look that could go by no other name than “tennis chic.”
The Williams sisters, Maria Sharapova, and Billie Jean King are all known for their backhand serves, endless volleys, and Wimbledon-winning follow through. For many people, this list of tennis royalty is not exactly what they would consider an all-star lineup of fashion icons. Yet it is the athletic looks of these women that are inspiring a-typical runway and retail looks this season.
The trends of tennis-wear have long been intertwined with the ever-changing styles of the fashion world. Taking a look back, in the 1920s women could be seen playing tennis on a Sunday afternoon sporting shapeless, straight cut, above the knee dresses. Another popular look at this time was long, loose cardigans layered over plunging v-neck t-shirts that were often paired with narrow, knee-length skirts. Just 10 years later, tennis fashion made a 180-degree turn away from the loose looks of the ‘20s and back to a more modest look of mid-length skirts paired neatly with sleeveless or short sleeve button ups. After tennis fashion’s more modest days, the 1940s brought a casual, unisex-y look to the tennis courts. High-waisted, tailored shorts and above the knee skorts replaced the longer, more feminine looks of the previous decade. The mock neck top also became very popular with women on the tennis court during this time. Then, in the early 1950s, tennis-loving ladies everywhere opted for the classically feminine and increasingly popular cinched-waist, front button dress with a built in belt matched with a short cardigan. The next decade brought mod, above the knee mini dresses onto the court that were followed by the large dramatic shirt collars and super short skirts of the 1970s. Up until the 1980s, most tennis wear was white, sometimes with a black accent or two. Then finally, by the ‘80s, pastels and bright neon tones made their entrance onto the courts.
Today, tennis is back and looking better than ever.
As of late, tennis fashions from the last 95 years are colliding to create an off the court look that designers are embracing and embellishing to make their own. Sports wife turned designer, Victoria Beckham, has a line of tennis-inspired mini dresses for semi-formal occasions of business or pleasure. These dresses feature a straight, boxy cut, a signature of the 1920s, with a pleated bottom that mimics the playful tennis skirts of the 1980s. Rag and Bone retailers have recently started to sell oversized sweaters with plunging v-necklines that are reminiscent of the on the court styles of the 1920s. Even Ralph Lauren was inspired by the sexiness of tennis-wear as the brand recently released several knit, knee-length dresses with loose v-necks that imitates the tennis style of the ‘20s and ‘50s.
So, what’s the deal? Why are the pages of this season’s Vogue, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar sprinkled with models in pleated tennis skirts and not modified football jerseys or high heeled golf shoes? Tennis seems to be serving up the most stylistically satisfying fashions partly because of the lifestyle of luxury that it represents. The game of tennis offers an air of high-class regality that makes it appealing to high-end designers and similarly to their consumers who have a taste for the high life themselves. Additionally, tennis taps in to one’s flirtatious and romantic side as illustarted in films like Annie Hall. The romanticism associated with this sport, as opposed to basketball or hockey, lends itself to the art of fashion. There may also be, deep within the heart (and under the Bvlgari diamond necklace and beneath the silk Chanel top) of every fashion lover, a stifled desire to channel her inner Sporty Spice. How better to do that than in a pair of Chanel’s tennis hot pants and matching visor? Love means nothing but this fall, tennis chic means everything.