Wimbledon is an institution, famed for its prestigious grass courts, longstanding traditions, knockout matches, and showstopping ensembles. It’s one of the most highly anticipated events of the British summer, where tennis stars go head to head – all dressed in white. And while the white dress code has remained notoriously strict, the styles and silhouettes have greatly evolved over the decades, serving some of the most memorable fashion moments in tennis history. From floor-length dresses to pleated mini-skirts, from corsets and stockings to shocking lace shorts – and even an all-white catsuit – here is the best of Wimbledon fashion from the 1880s to now.
On July 9, 1877, the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club began the first Wimbledon tennis tournament. Today, it’s the oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament in the world. The Women’s Championship began in 1884, kicking off an era of Wimbledon fashion.
While men wore elbow-length shirts and long pants, women wore long-sleeved, ankle-length dresses. Although, when 15-year-old British tennis player Lottie Dod won Wimbledon in 1887, she was permitted to wear a calf-length skirt as she was still a schoolgirl.
White clothing was worn by both men and women as it helped to mask perspiration. The famous “tennis whites” quickly became a symbol of wealth. The all-white clothing became a strict rule by 1890 when Wimbledon players were required to wear all-white uniforms.
GET INSPIRED BY: British Royale
Tennis continued to grow in popularity after the turn of the century, with Wimbledon outfits matching the fashion of Victorian England. In the early 1900s, women still wore long sleeves, high collars, stockings, and floor-length skirts, which made it difficult to play tennis. British tennis player, Dorothea Lambert Chambers, won Wimbledon an incredible seven times between 1903 and 1914, all while wearing multiple stiff petticoats and corsets.
Meanwhile, May Sutton Bundy, the first American to win the women’s single’s championship, caused a stir in 1905 by pulling up the cuffs of her dress to reveal her wrists. She said the sleeves were “too long and too hot” – and we don’t blame her!
By the 1920s, women tennis players were rebelling against constricting clothing. French tennis player Suzanne Lenglen made headlines when she played Wimbledon in a knee-length, cotton dress with bare arms, designed by Jean Patou. Suzanne also wore flapper-style headbands on the court, in line with the fashion trends of the roaring 20s.
American tennis player Elizabeth Ryan, the winner of 19 Wimbledon titles between 1914 and 1934, once said: “All women players should go on their knees in thankfulness to Suzanne for delivering them from the tyranny of corsets.”
Wimbledon fashion also had a great influence on the fashion industry which continues to this day. In the 1920s, French tennis player René Lacoste developed lightweight, breathable cotton shirts and began mass-producing them by 1933. They began emblazoning the shirts with the famous crocodile logo as “The Crocodile” was Lacoste’s nickname. Today, these polo shirts are an iconic part of the Lacoste brand.
GET INSPIRED BY: Castles & Kingdoms
Restrictive Wimbledon outfits were well on the way out by the 1930s, giving way to more practical knee-length shorts and skirts. British player Henry “Bunny” Austin was the first tennis player to wear shorts instead of trousers and first donned them in 1932.
Helen Wills Moody, an American tennis player who won eight Wimbledon titles in the 1920s and 30s, was famed for her white blouse and knee-length pleated skirts and legendary white visor. American tennis players Alice Marble and Helen Jacobs, were both fans of a more masculine style, wearing tailored shorts and crewneck T-shirts on the court in the 1930s.
RELATED CONTENT: From London to Tokyo: Where to sample the world’s best street food
Gertrude Moran was the defining star of Wimbledon fashion in the 1940s. The American tennis player, nicknamed ‘Gorgeous Gussie’, dressed in short satin skirts and ruffles, influencing the 1950s fashion to come.
Gertrude also scandalously wore lace knickers underneath her skirt that became visible while she played. Photographers were known to lie on the ground to snap pictures of the lace shorts. Her outfits were often designed by renowned British tennis fashion couturier Ted Tinling.
Pauline Betz was another woman dominating the Wimbledon court in the 1940s. She famously wore short-sleeved shirts, and short skirts or shorts, along with jockey caps.
RELATED CONTENT: 6 of the best spas you can visit with Luxury Gold
By the 1950s, Wimbledon outfits were changing to reflect the cinched waists, pleated skirts, pressed collars, and cardigans of the day. American tennis player Althea Gibson, who was the first black person to win Wimbledon in 1957, was famed for her pleated skirts and collared T-shirts.
American Maureen Connolly was also a fan of the nipped waists and decorative cardigans/. Her Majesty The Queen became the epitome of fifties style off the court when she wore a fitted floral dress at the 1957 Wimbledon championships.
In 1958, Karol Fageros ruffled feathers with her famous outfit. She was banned from the tournament for wearing gold lamé shorts under her skirt. It was said that the All England Club did not want another “Gorgeous Gussie” situation. They allowed Karol to return once she was wearing white shorts.
Wimbledon fashion continued to influence the fashion industry, with British tennis player Fred Perry launching his sportswear brand in 1952 following his retirement.
The sixties were all about mod fashion – and Wimbledon was no different. Players like Virginia Wade, Lorna Greville-Collins, Marlys Burel, Leo Pericoli, Maria Bueno, and Billie Jean King wore super-short skirts, streamlined dresses, flowy hemlines, and sleeveless vests.
Italian player Leo Pericoli was particularly fashion-forward, wearing sheer slips, frilly underwear, and short skirts. Some of her most gorgeous looks include a tutu-like dress and a ruffled minidress with an Anne Boleyn-inspired headband, designed by Ted Tinling. Leo even had to keep her tennis outfits secret until she appeared on the court as they generated so much buzz.
Off the court, royal fashion icon Princess Anne arrived at Wimbledon wearing hats and collared jackets that were a sixties fashion dream.
Skirts and shorts continued to get shorter in the 1970s, with legends like Australian players Evonne Goolagong Crawley and Margaret Court wearing button-down dresses over hotpants.
British player Sue Barker caused a stir at the 1977 Wimbledon when her short hemlines were deemed too risqué.
Meanwhile, the men were wearing shorter shorts, striped polo shirts, and terry cloth headbands, as seen on American players John McEnroe and Vitas Gerulaitis.
Wimbledon fashion continued to sway the industry when Fila stopped making knitwear and started creating sportswear, endorsed by Swedish tennis star Björn Borg.
RELATED CONTENT: 5 Côtes de Provence rosés you should be sipping this summer
Wimbledon outfits became tighter and shorter in the 1980s for both men and women. Tracy Austin was renowned for her eyelet dresses, short hemlines, and pigtails, while her brother John Austin wore super short shorts.
None took this trend so far as American player Anne White, who famously wore a skintight Lycra catsuit and quintessential 80s leg warmers to Wimbledon in 1985. Wimbledon officials reportedly told Anne White she could not wear the outfit again.
Fashion continued to play a big role off the court in the 80s, with Princess Diana wearing several showstopping looks over the years, including a blue floral dress with a cinched waist and oh-so-80s shoulder pads.
By the 1990s, tight whites were out and oversized sportswear was in. German tennis player Steffi Graf, who won seven Wimbledon titles in the 90s, was famed for her breezy t-shirts, short tennis skorts, and baggy spray jackets.
Steffi’s husband, fellow tennis legend Andre Agassi was also known for his oversized outfits. He liked to pair colourful, loose shirts with fluoro bike shorts and even refused to play Wimbledon from 1988 to 1990 because he didn’t like the all-white dress code.
Princess Diana again shined off the court in the 90s, with gorgeous designs like a printed purple dress and sleek tailored jackets.
RELATED CONTENT: 7 of the world’s most luxurious train journeys
Wimbledon fashion became even more daring as the decades went on. At the turn of the millennium, tennis stars like Russia’s Maria Sharapova and Anna Kournikova were serving chic looks as well as tennis balls.
Maria Sharapova loved to wear Swarovski crystals and even wore a Nike-designed, tuxedo-inspired outfit at the 2008 Wimbledon. Sharapova said she was inspired by menswear and wanted to wear something “classy and elegant”.
Anna Kournikova was famous for her short skirts and a controversial midriff-baring ensemble at the 2002 Wimbledon. She’s also known for wearing a white visor, just like Helen Wills Moody did in the 20s and 30s.
And just like Gertrude Moran and Karol Fageros were critiqued for their underwear choices, so was Tatiana Golovin at the 2007 Wimbledon. She opted to wear red shorts under her white dress, skirting around the all-white dress code rule. Since then, officials have now changed the rules to clearly state that even players’ underwear must be mostly white.
The 2010s to now
The Williams sisters took Wimbledon fashion by storm in the 2010s and beyond. Venus Williams wore a frilly Tina Turner-inspired dress in 2010, then a toga-inspired ensemble in 2011.
In 2016, Serena Williams won her 22nd Grand Slam title while wearing a classic high-collared top and a pleated, flowy skirt, designed by Nike. And in 2022, she delivered one of the most stunning dresses for Wimbledon yet again, with a one-sleeved, tapered white dress.
Another defining fashion moment came in 2021, with title winner Ash Barty’s Fila “Trailblazer” outfit. The sleeveless top and floral skirt ensemble were reminiscent of the style and floral trim on the dress worn by Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Barty’s mentor, at the 1972 Wimbledon.
After almost 150 years of Wimbledon, the fashion has evolved from floor-length Victorian-era outfits to unique modern-day ensembles that combine the best of function and style. We can’t wait to see what looks the tennis stars of tomorrow will be serving… Bring on summer!
What are your favourite Wimbledon fashion moments? Let us know in the comments below…