Starting this season, female tennis players will have more leeway when it comes to what they wear. Fila’s Ruffles & Stripes Collection, featured here on Tennis Connected will be perfectly okay, as it conforms to traditional tennis fashion. Something a little more outlandish, however, will now be permissible with the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) modifying its dress code for 2019 and beyond.
In particular, the WTA has approved leggings and mid-thigh-length compression shorts either with or without a skirt, shorts, or dress. To be fair, the aforementioned clothing wasn’t actually prohibited in the first place; WTA officials chose to make things official by specifying it in the dress code.
Curiously, the WTA’s decision is a direct response to last year’s infamous catsuit kerfuffle involving tennis superstar Serena Williams. The Conversation chalks up the controversy as “the most recent chapter of a century long debate over the place of informality and immodesty” in sportswear, particularly when women are involved. Williams was the latest to be dragged into this debate, when she wore a custom-made catsuit — essentially an all-black, all-compression garment — at the French Open. Williams’s get-up irked Bernard Giudicelli, the president of the French Tennis Federation. Giudicelli blasted the outfit and vowed that it “wouldn’t be back.” It “went too far,” he explained, and it didn’t “respect the game and the place.”
Now, even with the WTA’s decision to approve catsuits and similar clothing, don’t expect the iconic champion to wear the same outfit again, or anything close to it. Firstly, Williams has already made it clear that she does not want to commit another fashion faux pax. That means she’ll try to win a fourth French Open title wearing something more “acceptable”. And from all indications, Williams looks very capable of winning at Roland-Garros, as she is inching ever closer to the form that made her a 23-time Grand Slam champ. She has in fact, been given strong odds by bwin Tennis to win the French Open, right behind defending champion Simona Halep. Secondly, the WTA’s fashion-forward move in updating their dress code does not override the French Open’s own dress code, or that of the three other Grand Slams.
In other words, the WTA dress code is only applicable to WTA events. Grand Slams such as the French Open are entitled to their own dress code as they fall under the auspices of the International Tennis Federation — and by extension, the national tennis federation of the host country. The Roland-Garros dress code, as evident by the catsuit controversy, remains antediluvian, apparently refusing to consider the benefits of wearing compression garments or any fashion trends in sports in general. But the French Open is not alone in this regard. Wimbledon has also been notoriously strict, and antiquated, with its all-white dress code.
Venus Williams and Tatiana Golovin are two players who found out how strict the Wimbledon fashion police can be. In 2007, Golovin wore red shorts under her all-white gear, and it soon became a hot topic. Her choice of underwear even prompted Wimbledon officials to “update” the dress code to explicitly state that even underwear must be white. Ten years later, the Venus seemed to tempt fate by wearing a pink bra. Naturally, she had to change in-between sets.
Clearly, female tennis players have it harder compared to their male counterparts in terms of dress codes, especially when returning from maternity leave, as was the case with Williams. The reason for that runs deep, and it involves issues invariably related to gender in a male dominated sport. It’s a good sign then that the WTA’s disposition regarding dress codes seems to be progressing rather than regressing.