Tennis Fashions: then and now

Summer in Melbourne means two things in this household: beach in the evening on hot days, and the Australian Open. A bit of a self proclaimed sports fan, I pine all year long for the Australian Open. It’s the only live sporting event The Mister will attend. That’s right ladies and gents, I’m the sports fan, he’s not! Our annual pilgrimage to The Open began in the summer of 2011, when The Mister picked me up from work and surprised me with impromptu plans at the tennis. We saw Li Na – current women’s singles champ, who has now retired, and many others that night.

These days, we strategically plan our trip. Factors include: the likelihood of acquiring sunburn, the likelihood of seeing big names on the show courts (we generally purchase an evening ground pass), and who is playing live music on the Heineken Live Stage between Centre Court and Hisense Arena. This year, if we decide to brave the crowds, we like the look of the first day as Megan Washington is playing on the Heineken Live Stage. She does have stiff competition though with Darryl Braithwaite and Ross Wilson on Australia Day, which is Round 4, so we’d be limited as to who we’d see on show courts, plus every man and his dog will be there because what’s more Aussie than going to the tennis on Australia Day?

Getting back on topic – tennis fashions.
Up until 1969, what we know as the Australian Open was called the Australian Championships. Women and men alike wore white/cream outfits on court, but in contemporary years there has been a noticeable shift from traditional white dresses or tops/shirts and tennis skirts, or sometimes shorts, for women to more colourful form-fitting, aerodynamic cuts and fabrics. Men’s outfits have consisted of shirts, vests and slacks, to collared shirts and shorts, while contemporary male tennis players opt for t-shirts or collared tops with shorts.

I understand that along with skill, in contemporary times the aerodynamics of one’s outfit is vital to the athletic performance, but I just don’t understand today’s women’s outfits, they are hardly modest! One particular female on the WTA circuit whose outfits springs to mind are those of Serena Williams. Five times winner of the Australian Open, Williams’ on-court fashion has always raised my eyebrows.

Serena Williams forehandSource: Flickr via Creative Commons

Serena Williams: Olympic Singles Gold Medallist 2012Source: Wikipedia via Creative Commons

Stepping back in time to the 1920s, Daphne Akhurst was an Australian women’s tennis champion. Daphne Akhurst Cozens, like Serena Williams, was also five times a winner of the women’s singles at the then Australian Championships. Unfortunately, she died prematurely in 1933 at age 29 as a result of an ectopic pregnancy.  In 1934, the women’s singles tournament trophy was named in honour of Daphne Akhurst. Both Daphne Akhurst and Serena Williams are currently tied for third place in the number of Australasian/Australian Championships/Australian Open women’s singles titles.
Female tennis fashion in the 20s differed greatly to today. Below, Daphne Akhurst poses in a hat, a tea length dress with cap sleeves, tights/stockings, and flat white shoes (1925).

NPG x123955; Daphne Akhurst (Mrs R. Cozens) by BassanoSource: Wikimedia Commons

Photographed in 1938, six times women’s singles champion of the Australian Championship Nancye Wynne Bolton’s Australian uniform consists of a knitted button down top over what is possibly a knee length dress or top and skirt.

NPG x154856; Nancy Wynne Bolton by BassanoSource: Wikimedia Commons

Men’s outfits have changed too of course, but they have remained modest.

While tennis fashions are reflective of a progressive society, the old fashioned me wonders what these fashions say for younger people who idolise athletes such as Serena Williams. Of course, it does go much deeper than that, but it is much easier to call time here! Although I don’t condone the fashions, I am most certainly in awe of the athleticism of sports men and women globally.

Is there something that really bothers you about contemporary culture?


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