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Friday, June 19, 1998 Published at 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK

Women's fashion hits the courts

Old time tennis fashion: We've come a long way, baby

Long skirts, bustles, ties, hats and gloves and a Victorian lady was ready to take to the courts. Linda Spurr charts the long and frilly history of women's tennis gear.

Longtime tennis fashion designer Teddy Tinling on the ultimate question: What on earth should women wear to Wimbledon?
The game of Lawn Tennis was invented during the Victorian age and then, it was considered to be quite a "proper" pastime for young ladies. They could turn up for their garden parties, and when the call came "Anyone for tennis?" they could walk smartly onto court, just as they were. In the late 1800s, there were neither grunts nor perspiration.

But with the popularity of the new sport came grave concerns: What on earth should women wear?

[ image: Maud Watson: shocking in an ankle-length skirt]
Maud Watson: shocking in an ankle-length skirt
Maud Watson was the winner of the first two ladies singles championships ever held at Wimbledon in 1884 and 85. Maud is said to have provoked much gossip by running about the court in her ankle-length white dress, driving and volleying with expertise.

But tennis fashions really took off after the first World War with the Frenchwoman Suzanne Lenglen. She brought a much-needed touch of glamour to the game, although she was called a "poser" by some, "theatrical and controversial" by others, frequently repairing her makeup on court between sets.

Suzanne Lenglen gave glamour to Wimbledon
But her popularity was largely responsible for forcing Wimbledon to move to larger grounds in 1922. Instead of the mid-calf skirt and simple blouse, Suzanne sported the creations of the French couturier Jean Patou.

[ image: Suzanne's style swept the courts in the 1920s]
Suzanne's style swept the courts in the 1920s
Her dresses were made in delicately-pleated silk - clingy and filmy - more like those of a ballerina than an athlete. She also wore brightly-coloured cardigans, a matching turban or bandeau clasped with a diamond pin and white silk stockings that were twisted into place above the knee with a small French coin. To complete the ensemble, even on the hottest of days, she wore a fur coat. Lenglen's bandeau became her trademark and in 1923 it was recorded that the public began betting on the colour of the bandeau she would wear in her next match.

Kitty Godfree: Shorter skirts made it easier to play
French couturiers were not available to all, however. Kitty Godfree, Britain's most famous player after the war, felt that many of the women tennis players had learned to be more practical.
[ image:  ]
Many women made their own tennis dresses: white pique was very popular because it was beautifully white and washed and laundered well.

But mention ladies fashions and Wimbledon and most people will recall an American - Gorgeous Gussy Moran, who scandalised the established tennis world by wearing lace-trimmed panties in 1949.

It caused an uproar and Gussy was featured on the front page of the London Daily Express five times in one week. It made her an instant sensation but Gussy wasn't happy: "After the lace panties, everyone was always staring to see what I was wearing and I couldn't concentrate on tennis," she said.

The man who designed Gussy's panties was former umpire and player turned couturier, Ted Tinling. In 1948, Tinling designed a colour-trimmed dress for one of the British Wightman Cup team. But the Americans objected and Wimbledon took notice, introducing their all-white rule.

Ten years later, Tinling was at the centre of another controversy after he created gold lame panties for Karol Fagero: Wimbledon banned them before they even made it onto the court.

In the last 30 years, many people feel that the fashion and glamour has gone out of women's tennis. Chris Evert was one of the modern players who wore dresses, still designed by Ted Tinling. And fans of Gabriela Sabatini - the dark-haired beauty from South America - inevitably voted her top fashion icon.

But gradually, ladies tennis wear became totally practical - short skirts and sports shirts. The only light relief were the sponsors' logos.

[ image: Evert: swinging into modern times]
Evert: swinging into modern times
Anne White made her name in the eighties by trying something different. For her first round match at Wimbledon, she wore an all-white, skin-tight body suit. At one set all, the match was postponed overnight and she was quietly told by the Wimbledon authorities not to wear it the next day. She lost that match but worldwide coverage followed and did wonders for her confidence.

More recently, the arrival of the Williams sisters - Venus and Serena - has brought the photographers flocking back for tennis fashion photos. Their beads - all-white or purple and green especially for Wimbledon - can take four hours to style.

And of course, the ultimate in ladies fashions appeared on the Centre Court during the rain-affected Championships of 1996 - a streaker!

Yes, even the hallowed grounds of the All England Club succumbed to the fad of the 1990s. A young lady working with the catering company dashed across the court, clad only in a pinafore just as the two finalists, Richard Krajicek and Malivai Washington, were posing for photos.

Wimbledon's response? "Whilst we do not wish to condone the practice, it did at least provide some light amusement for our loyal and patient supporters, who have had a trying time during the recent bad weather."

Even the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, it seems, could see the joke.

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