It may seem that Maria Sharapova's penchant for tutu skirts and tailored shorts and Serena William's studded denim outfits and leather warm-up boots marked tennis' spectacular entrance into the fashion arena. But in fact, today's players are just beginning to compete with the high stylin' players of the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
When clothing sponsorships were introduced in the early 1980s it lead to the ousting of the fashion designer from the sport. And the man to go to until then for eye catching and unusual tennis frocks was Teddy Tinling. The British tennis player, fashion designer, spy (yes, spy!) and author was a fixture on the pro tennis tour for over 60 years.
In 1949, the openly gay sometime umpire made a pair of lace underpants for a player named Gussie Moran which led to him being asked to leave his position at Wimbledon. (I wonder if they nicknamed her 'Gusset Moran' after that?) Considering that Wimbledon officials have only recently begun awarding female players the same amount in cash winnings as men, their inability to see outside of the constraints of tradition back then is hardly surprising.
The couturier went on to design unique and daring outfits for tennis greats such as Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Virginia Wade and Evonne Goolagong. But he called only one woman his muse until his death in 1990, the French tennis player Suzanne Lenglen who won 31 Grand Slam titles between 1914 and 1926. He regarded her as the ultimate player both on and off the court. However, decades later, one young newcomer prompted him to draw comparisons to his beloved Lenglen. Oddly, it was Monica Seles. When he saw her playing in a "frilly polka-dot number ruffled from here to the Eiffel Tower" he remarked "Thank God Almighty, glamour has finally returned to the game."
Really, eh? Monica Seles = glamour? I suppose when you've been responsible for bringing over-the-top fashion to the sport only to see it all fall by the wayside in favour of free, mass-produced logoed shirts and skirts, frills and polka dots could very well endear you to the wearer.