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A History of Wimbledon Fashion: From Short Skirts to Shell Suits

The historic battle for tennis supremacy starts on the 29th June – of course we are talking about Wimbledon!  From courtside drama to celebrity appearences, there is always something to talk about when it comes to the UK’s most famous tennis competition.  Jollybrolly are fond lovers of Wimbledon fashion so we’ve delved into the fashion history of the competition, from the players to the spectators!

Traditional Tennis Court Fashion

Back in the days when women were expected to stay covered up to the extreme, tennis could be a bit of a chore.  Back in 1884, both men and women adopted layers of clothes, which were often unwieldy, in order to maintain decorum.  Men wore long sleeved shirts and trousers, whereas women were expected to play in a full-length dress and corset!  Maud Watson was the inaugural women’s champion for 1884, beating her sister Lilian for the win.  She did this wearing a white corset and petticoat – we dare not think of the chafing!

It was in 1905 that things really started to get exciting when American player May Sutton Bundy couldn’t stand the heat of her long sleeves so decided to role them up!  This caused quite a stir at the time as her bare forearms were on display, however she went on to win the competition and so the shortening of sleeves and skirts continued.  Knee-length skirts became the norm between the early part of the century up until the late forties when Gertrude Moran, known as Gorgeous Gussie, wore a short skirt with visible ruffled underwear beneath causing hearts to race and earning her the famous nickname.

Decades of Fashion

In spite of its early rules and regulations, Wimbledon fashion became more experimental for both players and spectators.  In 1964, during a decade of taboos being broken, Lea Pericoli competed in something resembling both a ballet tutu and wedding dress.  Her short dress with feathered detail around the bottom was a talking point for all involved and earned Lea a spot in tennis fashion history.

The following decades showed more experimentation with fashion, but not all of it was as successful as Pericoli’s dress.  The fashion horror decade that was the 1980s saw a wealth of questionable Wimbledon outfits, from Ann White’s Star Trek-esque all in one Lyrca jumpsuit to Steffi Graf’s pretty dreadful shellsuit.  They can perhaps blame these fashion faux pas on the decade, although sometimes there are no excuses!

It was not just the players who caused a stir in terms of outfits however, as the royal family and celebrities have made numerous appearences over the decades.  Princess Diana was a fond lover of tennis and looked characteristically immaculate in 1995 in a suit and classic pearls.  Last year saw some notable attendences, including a smartly-dressed David and Victoria Beckham sitting next to Samuel L. Jackson (who knew he was a tennis fan?).

Fashion Expectations for 2015

It wouldn’t be Wimbledon without the following things – weird fashion, unexpected celebrities and, most probably, rain.  That is why we expect players and spectators to be prepared with their brollies this year, perhaps extending some of their fashion experimentation to their umbrellas.  We know the majority of players will be wearing white, as is tradition and for the more practical reason that it will help keep players cool, but spectators can adopt summer fashion trends however they want.  Last year’s theme appeared to be blue with spectators like Victoria Beckham, Kate and Pippa Middleton and Keira Knightley all choosing blue dresses.

This year, we expect flashes of both pastel and fluorescent colours, possibly from the players too.  The Williams sisters are a constant source of fashion commentary, whether you love or hate their vibrant choices.  We expect a huge flurry of summer gorgeousness this year, but we know the real first fashion choice is an awesome umbrella.  It doesn’t matter if you’re centre court or watching from Henman Hill, a brolly will keep whatever fashion choices you’ve made pristine and dry!