1929-willis-jacobs_141134893533.jpg_article_gallery_slideshow_v2
By Amy Phillips Penn

“Ladies, here’s a hint. If you’re up against a girl with big boobs, bring her to the net and make her hit backhand volleys. That’s the hardest shot for the well-endowed.” – Billie Jean King

One summer in East Hampton, a neighbor and I discovered a virtually abandoned tennis court in the woods behind our house. We laced up our Keds, unzipped our racquet covers, and then breeding bounced on in, attired in true blue blood style.

“Do you think we need to wear whites?” he asked.

His mother would have been proud.

Tennis has rallied into a fashion revolution of its own.

White makes right, but why? Men may sweat and women “glow”, but colors show off the unthinkable.

Flashback to the Victorian Empire, in the late 1860’s. The players wore tight sleeved jackets (think of the mobility, not!), gloves, hats and long skirts.

“The better to trip on a ball with, my dear.”

The joy of hitting a ball encumbered in Victorian garb was getting old, fast.

In 1905, Mary Sutton, wore one of her father’s shirts, rolled back the sleeves, and took on Wimbledon.

Tennis dressing was on a slam-dunk roll of its own.

In 1922, Suzanne Lenglen (“La Divine” in the French press) made a Wimbledon entrance in a short skirt, colorful cardigans and a bandeau.

After the gossip and smelling salts had subsided, the color of her next bandeau became the talk of the tennis mode.

By the 1930’s, stockings unraveled and tennis players could go bare headed.

Ladies, gone ballsy and then some!

Enter 1949 and Victoria’s Secret would have been “a-drool.”

Gertrude “Gussie” Moran flaunted lace-trimmed panties under her white dress to Wimbledon. The London Daily Express exposed the news five times in a week, while the British press dubbed her “gorgeous Gussie.”

Ted Tinling, a former umpire and player, designed the daring panties.

Not content with his fifteen minutes, Tinling created a color-trimmed dress: Wimbledon imposed the all-white rule. He countered by designing a gold panty, which was then banned.

A “triple bagel” for Ted.

Mega flash-forward to the 1990’s when the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, took hold of the ball and dress code, in boldly colored clothes, dangling earrings and hair beads.

The paparazzi loved it.

Serena played in a leather look- alike the cat suit, moved on to boots and denim skirts, and rocked into her own fashion line,:“Aneres,” while Venus lobbed into her own: “EleVen.”

Tennis dresses in New York streets in the sixties? A daring move, a lotta leg, and a hint of endless possibilities.

A friend of mine sported a court-sized crush on a boy who played tennis. What’s a girl to do? She dressed up in a hot little tennis dress, slung a racket across her shoulder and walked around the New York street he lived on, until she was too exhausted to even step on a court.

Fashion editors took note, and tennis-wear to heart and page; sports create fashion and the fashionable.

Years ago, I was down Madison Avenue, dressed in a riding jacket from the erstwhile equestrian apparel store Knouds.

I all but collided into designer Bill Blass who grabbed me by the lapel.

“Where’d you get this?,” he demanded.

Once Bill released me, he went on to pontificate that great fashion is often derived from sports with style.

Today’s ball boys and ball girls tote Ralph Lauren.

If Ralph Lauren could trademark an entire sport as ancient and powerful as polo, just imagine what he could do with other sports trademarks.

”Tennis anyone, who’s anyone?”

Image courtesy of Vogue

Leave a Reply