Athleisure is nothing new, if the fashions seen at The French Tennis Open (also called Roland-Garros) in Paris are anything to go by- especially in 2020, the 30th birthday of the La Griffe Roland-Garros collection.
Tennis has had a fashionable edge ever since its elegant origins as a lawn sport. Inspired by British player Maud Watson at Wimbledon in 1884, white became the accepted colour worn by high society for exercise, and much tennis clothing adhered to this rule in the decades that followed.
The photos shown in this article were originally displayed at a 2015 exhibition at the Museum of the French Tennis Federation, and reveal how much tennis fashions have evolved in that time.
Early images show the long-skirted garb for women and flannel-trousered attire for men, always worn with a hat and blazer, before tennis gear became more suited to activity. In 1912, France’s Marguerite Broquedis exchanged her laced up boots for flat shoes, and wore a short-sleeved shirt with a skirt that fell just above her ankles. After World War One, dresses became shorter still. Corsets and hats were ditched, and new fashionable touches added – such as turbans or coloured belts for flair.
By the middle of the 20th century, tennis had established its own distinctive look – with pastels, stripes, ultrashort dresses and deliberate pairing with undergarments. Brand names such as Jean Patou, Dorotennis, Éliette and Moncler became synonymous with tennis style.
Grand Slam style
The current crop of day-glo and animal print gear being worn at the French Open owes its origins perhaps to the 1990s. Flamboyant players such as André Agassi and Ivan Lendl started wearing fluorescent or colourful patterned detailing. Maria Sharapova experimented with outfits ranging from sailor girl to tuxedo, and the Venus sisters shocked in styles inspired by punk, hip hop and bordello alike.
® FFT Mode and Roman - Mai 1936
New technology transformed the fabrics, which were increasingly aerodynamic, isothermal and elastic, triggering the emergence of eye-catching new styles. The headline-making skater dresses of star Serena Williams, racy mesh ensemble of Czech Denisa Allertova and plunging neckline of French Mathilde Johanson were all made possible with new fabrics.
Some styles went on to achieve long-term commercial success – such as Rafael Nadal’s El Decimo sneakers from Nike.Wearing strong colours enhances a sence of power for Venus Williams who, with seven Gran Slam titles and four Olympic golds, drew on her own activewear line.
Other tennis styles have proven too daring for the taste-makers – such as the zebra print of Germany’s Angelique Kerber or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and the tie-dyed outfit of the UK’s Helen Watson.
® FFT Éliette - Tennis de France, Mai 1972
Birth of a French tennis brand
Among the French brands to modernise tennis fashion, Dorotennis, Éliette (pictured) and Moncler come to mind as modernising men’s and women’s tennis fashions alike.
But perhaps most famous of all these brands in Lacoste. The brand was founded by star player René Lacoste, who won the French Open in 1924 at the age of 20,and founded his eponymous brand not long after. Known for his style and perfectionism, Lacoste was nicknamed “the alligator” following a bet involving an alligator-skin suitcase, and a symbol for his tennis brand was born. His iconic L12.12 polo shirt debuted in the 1940s,and has been a fashion stalwart since - on and off the courts.
Apart from Lacoste’s known product and fashion innovations, the brand has also climbed in status as a prestige name, and is now equally known for its glamorous boutiques, advertising campaigns and luxury items such as perfume.
® Flip Flap Tennis De France Février 1971
Garros turns 32
The sports fashions worn over the years at Roland-Garros have not gone unnoticed by the media, nor by the fashion scene itself. Great fashion names to have jumped on the tennis bandwagon include Christian Dior, Hugo Boss and Daniel Hechter, who have all been chosen to dress tournament staff here over the years.
® FFT Éliette - Tennis de France, Avril 1971