Everything that makes the dress so aesthetically pleasing – those beautiful, knife-sharp pleats, that lovely oversized A-line silhouette – renders it completely inefficient for playing tennis in. In the three days that Wimbledon has been unfolding over in West London the internet has been flooded with pictures of tennis stars struggling to play the game in the dress.
It’s terrible to serve in. (“When I was serving, it was coming up, and I felt like the dress was just everywhere… In general it’s quite simple, the dress, but it was flying everywhere,” Rebecca Peterson of Sweden told the New York Times).
It’s terrible to volley in. It’s terrible to play doubles in (“When you get up from I-formation, you can grab it [by accident],” coach Jiri Fencl noted sagely). It’s terrible to try and slip in a groundstroke in. And backhands? Well, you better hope there’s not a strong wind.
After just a few days of play, Nike asked for players to bring their dresses in to the brand’s offices for alterations. A tailor sewed up the side splits in the dress to stop it from flying up in player’s faces, revealing their bloomers to the crowds. (“I didn’t feel comfortable showing that much,” Sabine Lisicki, a German former Wimbledon finalist, said of her decision to switch from the dress to a skirt and top).
But other players took matters into their own hands. Katie Boulter tied a sweatband around her waist to keep the dress from riding up. Lucie Hradecka wore the dress with a pair of leggings underneath. Another player wore a jumper over the top to ensure it didn’t fly up over her face. (Bless the English summer for allowing such trans-seasonal styling).
Some players, including 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard, are fans of the design. “I love it,” she told reporters after a match. “It’s nice and short so you can move around and be free with your movements… It’s funny that people paid a lot of attention to it, but I really think it’s really nice.”
The real question, as Slate so aptly pointed out, is why are women still playing tennis in dresses, anyhow? They asked the question back in 2001 noting that:
“Unlike ice skaters… tennis players are not scored on how they look, so they can’t claim they are captive to judges’ preferences. And women don’t wear them because skirts are more comfortable or conducive to better play; if that were the case, male tennis players looking for a competitive edge would have adopted skirts, too. (If you doubt this, consider that male athletes shave their legs and don body stockings for swimming.) Plus, pro women usually wear shorts for tennis practice.”
So why, in this day and age, when the greatest tennis player in the world is a woman (Serena Williams) and female tennis player are fighting for equal pay, rallying against an institution that keeps denying that they are equal (and indeed often superior) athletes to their male counterparts, are women still given specially-designed dresses to wear on the court?
Why aren’t sports brands making female tennis players fantastic shorts and tops, like they do for the men?