Tenniscore: centre-court chic smashes it this fashion season

Tenniscore: centre-court chic smashes it this fashion season

With a new film, Challengers, opening this weekend, American actor Zendaya has been on a lot of premiere red carpets and chatshow sofas in recent weeks. And from shoes with tennis-ball heels to a party dress patterned with rackets, the former teen idol’s outfits have all been a very chic take on tennis, much like the Luca Guadagnino film itself.

While the rest of us may lack the occasion to wear a plunge-fronted floor-length neon dress decorated with a tennis ball, it will be hard to miss “tenniscore” this year as clothes inspired by, or worn for, the sport become the latest trend.

On secondhand fashion resale app Depop, searches for tennis skirts and polo shirts are up 52% and 53% respectively. Interest in these traditional sports looks will also be bolstered by new glossy Apple TV series Apples Never Fall, based on a Liane Moriarty novel about a tennis family dynasty. Fashion labels including Miu Miu and Celine have also explored tennis style recently.

The tennis theme hit the catwalk at this February’s Paris fashion week.View image in fullscreen

Though a very current trend, the connection between fashion and tennis is longstanding. In the 1920s, French player Suzanne Lenglen became a fashion plate thanks to wearing Jean Patou designs on court. Tennis stars René Lacoste, Fred Perry and Stan Smith all lent their names to clothing and shoes still in many a modern wardrobe.

A pavé diamond bracelet is known as a tennis bracelet thanks to America’s Chris Evert wearing one in the 1978 US Open. Then there are the competitors who made style statements by challenging the traditional whites – from John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg in the 80s, to Steffi Graff’s and Andre Agassi’s neons in the 90s.

Other notable fashion moments on court include Billie Jean King’s button-through dress worn for the “battle of the sexes” match with Bobby Riggs in 1973 and Serena Williams’ black catsuit with a red band at the 2018 French Open. Stuart Brumfitt, the editor of tennis style magazine Bagel, says that the sport’s sunkissed circuit is key to its elevated fashion status: “You watch the rugby or football through the winter, and it’s pouring with rain. Tennis is always in these amazing locations. There’s a bit of inherent glamour to it.”

The game has also long had a connection to the rich. “It was one of the first sports that wealthy, upper middle-class men and women played together,” says Robert J Lake, author of A Social History of Tennis in Britain. “People tend to look to the rich and famous for new trends.”

Gary Armstrong, editor of sport and fashion magazine CircleZeroEight, says this association with wealth and glamour helped forge the connection with fashion houses. Tennis players were ‘good enough’ to wear high fashion, whereas footballers weren’t,” he says. “There’s probably a higher percentage of tennis players who have endorsement deals with watch and perfume brands. Beauty brands like tennis because it’s not too sweaty.”

The UK’s Emma Raducanu is a Dior ambassador; Jannik Sinner, the highest ranked Italian player in history, works with Gucci, and Carlos Alcaraz, 2023 men’s winner at Wimbeldon, is in adverts for Louis Vuitton.

Though the players are known for their style, tennis’s dress codes remain strict. The French Open banned catsuits after Williams wore hers. Wimbledon’s rule that players should wear mostly white has been in place since the tournament began in 1877. It was tweaked last year to allow coloured undershorts to address female players’ anxiety about playing while they had their period.

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“Agassi didn’t play Wimbledon for three years because they wouldn’t let him wear neons,” says Brumfitt. “He missed major grand slams on this sartorial principle.”

Daniel-Yaw Miller, who writes about sport and fashion for industry title The Business of Fashion, says: “There’s a critical mass of young players on the tour who are bolder and express their personal style on and off the court – Coco Gauff, Ben Shelton as well as Sinner.”

And, Miller says, it’s not just the players who are important for the link between fashion and tennis. Morgan Riddle is an influencer with 257,000 followers on Instagram, who is the partner of American player Taylor Fritz. “She’s become a tennis tastemaker, and she’s now signed her own sponsorship deal with sports brand Wilson.

“She’ll bring 15 other influencers to the tournament. It spreads tennis to different audiences, which is always a good thing,” he says.