History of Men’s Tennis Fashions
The importance of fashion in men’s tennis has a history stretching back to the earliest days of the game, when men of leisure indulged in games of tennis, watched by small crowds of aristocratic spectators.
The earliest male tennis players most closely resembled today’s baseball players. Royal decree ensured that all players wore balloon-like shorts accompanied by stockings – an apparel style that matched the fashions of the day.
As the years passed, and Britain entered the Victorian era, men’s tennis apparel became more conservative, and tennis players took to the courts in full-length trousers and shirts. However, there was some relief on the footwear front, when rubber-soled sneakers were introduced to the men’s game in 1867.
During the early part of the 20th century male tennis players were virtually indistinguishable from test cricket players. Men dressed in white flannel trousers and white shirts, sometimes adding v-neck or cable-knit sweaters to their kit to add an element of style to their appearance.
‘Big’ Bill Tilden is generally regarded as having been the first male tennis fashion icon. Tilden transformed the image of men’s tennis from that of a sport played by wealthy, leisured young men unable to handle the physical demands of team sports, into a man’s game played by the toughest athletes.
Tilden’s fame led many to emulate his style of dress, which included long shirts rolled up to the elbows, the customary flannel trousers and a selection of elegant sweaters.
A major revolution took place in men’s tennis in 1932. English tennis player, Henry ‘Bunny’ Austin, grew frustrated with having to wear cumbersome flannel trousers, and ditched these in favour of a pair of shorts. When Austin wore his shorts at Wimbledon in 1932, he initiated a fashion revolution that would transform the sport forever.
During the next four decades changes to men’s tennis fashion were minor. The length of shorts varied from decade to decade, as did the cut of the tennis shirts players wore during tennis tournaments. It was, however, not until 1970 that players decided to add a little colour to the game.
During the 1970s colour was added to men’s tennis apparel for the first time since the earliest days of the sport. The change was introduced after spectators complained that the bland colouring made it difficult to distinguish between players.
Even after colour made an appearance in men’s shirts, it remained toned-down, with most using only pastel hues. At around this time the use of headbands became popular, with both John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg sporting this headgear during the period of their famous rivalry.
From the 90s onwards, colours started taking up more space in men’s shirts, first in the form of designs, before fully coloured shirts finally became an acceptable item of clothing for male players. Shorts were soon to follow, with the likes of Andre Agassi pushing the boundaries of men’s tennis fashion ever further.
During the 1990s, the short-shorts favoured during the 1980s were dropped in favour of baggier, Bermuda style shorts. Players like Agassi started wearing lycra cycling shorts underneath these shorts – a trend that continues to this day.
As the shape of shorts changed, so did that of shirts, with some players discarding the traditional tennis/polo style shirt entirely. Male players now choose from a wide variety of shirt styles, ranging from t-shirts, to the sleeveless shirts favoured by Rafael Nadal.
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