Tennis

French Open: Tennis fashion has come a long way in the last century...

Updated 0558 GMT (1358 HKT) July 4, 2017
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Judging by this 1908 photograph of two tennis players lounging in crisp white shirt and trousers, the sport has come a long way in the last century.
"Back then, the men would play in long trousers and long shirts and sometimes even neckties. And the women would wear big skirts and occasionally corsets and big bellowing sleeves," says Ben Rothenberg, author of "The Stylish Life: Tennis."
"They would look at someone on court today and think they were practically naked by their standards."
With the French Open in full swing in Paris -- a city often described as one of the "fashion capitals of the world" -- we take a look back at some of the sport's most memorable, and downright bizarre, style moments.
London Stereoscopic Comapny/Getty Images/File
A young lady enjoys a hit at the Queen's Club lawns in London, 1918, dressed in a long pleated skirt and stockings.
"Tennis started out in the Victorian era in England as a lawn sport for the aristocracy," says Rothenberg.
"It would be something that happened at social occasions; people would string up a net just in the front lawn of their manor, and they would play in fairly similar attire to what they were wearing at the time."
A. R. Coster/Getty Images/File
"One of the earliest innovations they had was the wearing of all-white, which caught on pretty quickly because it was a way for sweat to be hidden," explains Rothenberg of a dress code that still remains at Wimbledon today.
"Especially for the women, being seen to be perspiring was unthinkable and incredibly unsightly."
By the 1920s, sportswear had become less restrictive, with these two women wearing sleeveless tops and sun visors in 1926.
H.F Davis/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
One of the most controversial players of the 1920s was chic French star Suzanne Lenglen (pictured in 1925).
"She was scandalous in many different ways; sometimes sipping brandy in the changeovers," says Rothenberg.
"Suzanne really was a tennis icon who had a lot of influence on general fashion. Even the head wraps she'd wear to keep the hair out of her eyes became a fixture of 1920s fashion for women around Europe and the U.S."
Hulton Archive/Getty Images/File
Off the court, French player Rene Lacoste made his name as a fashion icon with his crocodile motif (pictured here in 1932).
"Lacoste, which became the polo shirt, has really become a staple of American and European menswear," says Rothenberg.
"It's the most lasting fashion footprint worldwide coming from tennis."
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images/File
Young English players here opt for a smart-casual style in the mid-1940s.
This image features in Rothenberg's book, "The Stylish Life: Tennis," published by teNeues, courtesy Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS.
Courtesy Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS
Former U.S. First Lady Jackie Kennedy adds a touch of glamor to the sport in 1953. The image also features in the book, "The Stylish Life: Tennis," published by teNeues, courtesy Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS. Courtesy Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS
"You still see wooden tennis rackets showing up in clothing catalogs a fair amount today. It's become an iconic symbol of leisure, relaxation, wealth and elegance," says Rothenberg.
"You see models holding them over their shoulder with a sweater tied around their neck, and it's become a timeless, preppy prop."
Here, two models show off their stylish sports attire in 1964.
Chaloner Woods/Getty Images/File
Back on the court, legendary American player Billie-Jean King didn't let a pair of oversized spectacles stop her reaching for success in the late 1960s.
King won the women's singles title at Wimbledon six times, the U.S. Open four times, and the Roland Garros tournament in Paris once.
AFP/Getty Images/file
Swedish tennis great Bjorn Borg kept his hair long, and shorts short, in the mid-1970s. Getty Images/File
It might not be the most practical sports attire, but that didn't stop a generation swooning over Diane Keaton's cute-as-a-button waistcoat and tie ensemble in Woody Allen's 1977 film "Annie Hall."
The image features in the book, "The Stylish Life: Tennis," published by teNeues, courtesy Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS.
Courtesy Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS
Note to self: If you're going to walk onto a court in a white Lycra bodysuit, then you don't want to walk off the court a loser. Luckily, American player Anne White could hold her head high after winning in this space-age suit in 1985.
This picture features in the book, "The Stylish Life: Tennis," published by teNeues, courtesy Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS.
Courtesy Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS
Argentine tennis player Gabriela Sabatini opts for a graphic design during the 1985 Wimbledon Championships. Keystone/Getty Images/File
Perhaps you'd be upset too, if you had hair like this. John McEnroe lets rip during a tournament in 1980.
"I think a lot of people identified with McEnroe," says Rothenberg. "It was right when punk music was around, and people saw him as anti-establishment in a way they found really appealing and relatable -- even though it was a love-hate relationship at times."
Getty Images/File
Thought you couldn't play tennis in denim shorts? Try telling that to Andre Agassi in 1989. Tim de Frisco/Allsport/Getty Images/File
A baby-faced Monica Seles poses with Martina Navratilova after winning the 1991 U.S. Open. Getty Images/File
Germany's Steffi Graf wears a floral skirt during the French Open in 1995. Note the scrunchie. Patrick Kovarik/Getty Images/File
Oh how we wish those Victorian-era women, in cumbersome white skirts and stockings, could see Serena Williams tear up the court in a skin-tight black catsuit during the U.S. Open in 2002.
The look on their faces would be priceless.
Don Emmert/Getty Images/File
Russia's Maria Sharapova had an interesting take on Wimbledon's "all-white" rule, sporting a tuxedo-style top in 2008. Clve Brunskill/Getty Images/File
When it comes to on-court fashion, there's just no beating the Williams sisters -- as exemplified by Venus' eye-popping lattice top at the Australian Open in 2011.
"I think Venus and Serena have both said: 'If you look good, you'll play good,'" says Rothenberg.
"That said, if you're going to wear something bold, you want to have the talent to pull it off. Everything looks better when you're winning."
Julian Finney/Getty Images/File
Decades after Suzanne Lenglen made the sport headband fashionable, Spain's Rafael Nadal opts for an aqua-colored number in Monte Carlo, earlier this year.
"Tennis has always been a sport about self-expression," says Rothenburg.
"That individuality is what really kept tennis going -- whether it's McEnroe, or Agassi, or Serena or Venus Williams, they all have that independent streak that I think people really admire."
Julian Finney/Getty Images/File
Like Nadal, Maria Sharapova will be defending her title at Roland Garros this year, in what has been dubbed "The Nike Maria Paris Dress" (pictured.) It features Dri-FIT fabric that helps wick the sweat away from the body and French Breton-style stripes. This is Paris, after all. Courtesy Nike