She won 23 grand slams and was ranked the number one seed in women’s singles for a total of 319 weeks, 186 of which were consecutive. Her career achievements are next to none—no one is quite like the powerhouse that is Serena Williams.
But alongside her astonishing list of athletic achievements, Williams’ contribution to on-court fashion, and more importantly, the part she’s played in modernising it, cannot be overstated.
We have Williams’ fearless, bold, and, to put it frankly, extremely on-point sense of fashion to thank for both calling out and breaking down outdated dress codes for women in tennis.
From prioritising functionality—while still remaining stylish as ever—to making a fiery public statement, below, we trace how Williams rose up the ranks to become an on-court fashion icon (as well as one of the greatest tennis players in history).
1998 US Open
For her first ever US Open (AKA, the beginning of an history-making 24-year journey), Serena Williams wore a white mini-dress designed by Puma. In her earliest tennis days, Williams often wore her hair in braids with colourful beads.
In a meaningful mirror moment, her four-year-old daughter Alexis Olympia was pictured at her mother’s last ever US Open in 2022 wearing her own hair in braids with white beads.
Alexis Olympia also wore an outfit inspired by Williams’ US Open look for 2022 (more on that below).
It was no doubt a poignant moment for the now 40-year-old athlete.
2002 US Open
By the early 2000s, Williams had well and truly captured the sporting world’s attention. It was around this time that she began making bolder fashion statements on-court—particularly this black Puma one-piece body suit for the 2002 US Open. A sign of things to come…
2004 US Open
Williams really did invent athleisure. In 2004, she mixed street style with activewear by donning a denim micro mini to the US Open.
Wimbledon is known for its strict all-white dress code, but Williams pushed boundaries by opting for a sheer leopard print (albeit subtle) in 2015. She won the championship that year, so suffice to say it worked for her.
2016 US Open
Throughout her career, Williams has often opted for bright, bold neons, and this white and pink Nike ensemble worn to the 2016 US Open was a crowd favourite.
2016 Australian Open
That same year, Williams said her neon yellow two-piece, worn to the Australian Open, was inspired by pop culture.
“I just wanted to push the envelope again, just bring pop culture to tennis, kind of make it really fun,” she told media at the time.
“A lot of things you see on stage and, you know, just in that pop culture world, I wanted to bring that youth and that fun-ness to it.”
2018 Roland Garros
Williams made one of her biggest fashion statements at the 2018 Roland Garros when she wore a full-length catsuit. But to the outrage of her fans, the outfit was banned from the tournament, with French Tennis Federation President Bernard Giudicelli telling AP, “I think that sometimes we’ve gone too far. It will no longer be accepted. One must respect the game and the place.”
The ban was met with outrage when Williams cited that the outfit was specifically picked out for health reasons after she had given birth to her daughter in 2017.
“I’ve had a lot of problems with my blood clots, God I don’t know how many I’ve had in the past 12 months,” she said. “I’ve been wearing pants in general a lot when I play so I can keep the blood circulation going.”
She added that the suit made her feel like a “superhero”.
“I feel like a warrior in it, a warrior princess… I’ve always wanted to be a superhero, and it’s kind of my way of being a superhero.”
Naturally, the ban sparked a figurative storm, one which ultimately proved that women were still being unfairly restricted when it came to on-court attire.
2018 US Open
Superheroes also wear tutus. A couple of months after the catsuit controversy, Williams competed at the US open in a purple outfit (courtesy of a collaboration between Nike x Louis Vuitton) featuring a voluminous tutu. She fully embraced the style by twirling for the crowds.
2019 Roland Garros
For her next Roland Garros in 2019, Williams literally stuck it to the man with an outfit which made a powerful public statement. The custom Nike design, created in collaboration with Virgil Abloh, was emblazoned with the French words for “Mother, Champion, Queen, Goddess”.
“[The design] talks about me being a mom and me being a queen, as all women are. A champion. It’s positive reinforcement for me, and I kind of love that,” Williams told media at the time.
2021 Australian Open
At the 2021 Australian Open, Williams proved she was the queen of catsuits once and for all. This time, she opted for a black, red and pink asymmetric design which featured one full-length leg.
The Nike design was inspired by famous US sprinter, Florence Griffith Joyner, who was known for wearing asymmetric outfits and bold colours.
2022 US Open
In 2022, Williams announced that the US Open would be her last ever Grand Slam—and the last time our eyeballs would be blessed with her iconic tennis style.
Of course, she went all out. Williams co-designed a dress with Nike, which featured a black tutu consisting six layers (each representing the six US Open titles she’s won), along with glistening crystals to represent the stars in the night sky over the Queens-based tennis centre.
To finish the look, William’s laces feature a deubré encrusted with 400 hand-set diamonds which spell out the word “Queen”.
We couldn’t think of a better final fit if we tried. Long live Serena, a tennis and style queen.