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banner Saturday, 30 June, 2001, 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK
The frills and spills of womens' tennis
Suzanne Lenglen changed the face of womens' tennis fashion
Lenglen changed the face of womens' tennis fashion
When it comes to womens' tennis, hemlines - not baselines - have obsessed Wimbledon watchers.

BBC Sport Online's Claire Stocks looks at the changing face of court couture, fron Lenglen to Tinling, and culottes to catsuits.

It may seem a modern peversion, the British tabloids' preoccupation with the attire of female tennis players.

From Anna Kournikova's bounce-free bra to Alicia Molik's Lycra skirt - too tight, according to BBC commentator John McEnroe, to allow her to move.

John McEnroe doesnt like Lycra on Alicia Molik
John McEnroe doesn't like Lycra on Alicia Molik

There are few post-match media conferences that do not include at least one question about fashion.

One interviewer even asked Martina Hingis if her first-round exit might not have been down to the fact she was wearing long sleeves in the 90 degree heat.

But this obsession is not new.

In the 1920s the female tennis stars, and in particular, Frenchwoman Suzanne Lenglen, had a profound effect not just on tennis but on the entire future of fashion.

Lenglen won Wimbledon five times in the space of seven years.

On the two occasions she pulled out, in 1924 and 1926, the women's singles title was won by a self-taught young British woman Kathleen McKane, who later married the Davis Cup player Leslie Godfrey.

Tennis at that stage was followed by a small but knowledgeable public.

But in 1922 the All England Club moved from Worple Road to its current home on Church Road and increased its capacity to 14,000.


Lenglen's balletic style and eye-catching attire, together with McKane's gutsy victories and modest demeanour, helped bring the game to a wider audience.

More than that, Lenglen also shaped the styles of the day, encouraging a more tolerant atttiude towards women's dress.

She played without petticoats or corsets, standard attire of the day.

She usually wore a flimsy calf-length cotton dress tied with a simple ribbon about the waist.

But she was most famous for the Lenglen Bandeau, a brighly coloured swatch of cloth she tied around her head.

The outfit was replicated in fine crepe de chine and silk and sold in the most fashionable stores, setting a new trend on the French Riviera.

Helen Wills had a Hollywood star's glamour
Helen Wills had a Hollywood star's glamour

In the 1930s it was Helen Wills, the American, who led on the tennis court as well as in the fashion stakes.

As glamourous as a Hollywood actress, a change of hairstyle made headlines.

Wills, who won the Wimbledon women's singles eight times between 1927 and 1938, also introduced the eyeshade, mimicked in tennis clubs up and down the land.

By the time tennis really made the front pages, in 1934 when Fred Perry and Dorothy Round made it a double victory for Britain at Wimbledon, shorts were common among men.

But they were also becoming popular among women.


It began in 1931 when Joan Lycett first discarded her stockings to play in bare legs and ankle socks.

With no stocking tops to hide, hemlines began to rise.

The miniskirt was still 30 years away, but on the tennis court it became acceptable for women to wear skirts two or three inches above the knee, or even culottes.

I see no reason women should not wear shorts when they play tennis
  The Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII

The Daily Mail - who else? - began a campaign to get shorts outlawed.

But the Prince of Wales, a keen player, dug his oar in saying: "I see no reason women should not wear shorts when they play tennis.

"They are very comfortable and quite the most practical costume for the game."

But the real revolution occured in the 1950s.

The bottom line is that skirts are even shorter thses days
The bottom line is that skirts are even shorter thses days

Ted Tinling created a dress with purple coloured hemlines for tennis player Joy Gannon.

The British and Americans objected saying it breached the all-white rule.

Tinling's response was to add white lace trim to the under-knickers in a bid to emphasise his outfit's femininity.

So the frilly knickers were born.

By those standards, today's outfits are remarkably tame.

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30 Jun 01 |  Wimbledon 2001
British tennis is 'pathetic'
29 Jun 01 |  Wimbledon 2001
Henman passes Schalken test
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