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Tennis Costume

Tennis Costume

The nineteenth century saw phenomenal growth in sporting activities, for women as well as for men, particularly between 1870 and 1900. All manner of new sports came into favor, and it was impossible to practice them with any comfort in the formal dress of the day. Clothes had to be adapted accordingly, but progress was slow, especially for women.

Lawn tennis became a popular sport in England and the United States in the 1870s. However, women's clothes made few concessions to the sport. Women played in dresses with high-necked bodices, layers of petticoats, and floor-length skirts that made it virtually impossible to bend over to retrieve tennis balls. As a result, by the 1880s special tennis aprons, often beautifully embroidered and furnished with large pockets to accommodate the balls, had become fashionable tennis attire for women. Maud Watson, the winner of the first ladies singles championship held at Wimbledon in England in 1884, is said to have provoked much gossip by running around the court in an ankle-length white dress, driving and volleying with great skill.

Men's clothes were more adaptable to sports. Typical tennis attire for a man included knickerbockers, loose-fitting short pants gathered at the knee, or cream or white flannel trousers with long-sleeved flannel shirts, short silk ties, knitted hose, and kerchiefs or sashes around the waist. A low-laced early version of the tennis shoe was also coming into fashion. Paintings from the late nineteenth century depict British men playing in shirtsleeves, a shirt without a coat, or with trouser hems turned up above the ankles, a sign that standards of etiquette were relaxing to allow for ease of movement.


Setnik, Linda. Victorian Costume for Ladies. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 2000.

Ulseth, Hazel, and Helen Shannon. Victorian Fashions. Cumberland, MD: Hobby House Press, 1989.

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