The last time Serena Williams wore a fullsuit in a Grand Slam tournament, in 2018 at Roland Garros, it practically sparked a revolt.
The Gallic Powers of Tennis were so shocked by replacing the classic little white dresses – though women’s tennis clothing can even be called “dresses” given that they are shorter than most tunics – with a black Nike bodysuit. They weren’t grabbing their breasts in horror, they actually instituted a dress code that specifically prohibited such outfits. “We must respect the game and the place,” said Bernard Giudicelli, president of the French Tennis Federation.
But then, of course, Ms Williams did it again, going for a short jumpsuit at the Australian Open in 2019, a look that was reminiscent of her first US Open appearance in 2002, when she wore a short black bodysuit (it was then sponsored by Puma). This look has become a kind of lightning rod and a pivotal moment in the conversation about female bodies – especially black female bodies – tennis, power and who manages to control all of the above.
And now, playing at the height of her powers in the Australian Open semifinals, chasing her 24th Grand Slam record and defying all odds, she wears one again. This time, it’s even more eye-catching: an asymmetrical one-leg jumpsuit, pink, red and black graphic.
Even in the context of the Australian Open’s wilder fashion, where players have historically felt more free to express themselves in clothing on the court – even in the context of the tennis dress’s own history. Ms Williams, which included a pleated denim skirt with a studded tank top and a tutu – it was an unequivocal statement of intent.
She has changed and continues to be a game changer. In more than one way.
Ms Williams said the style of this short suit was a tribute to Florence Griffith Joyner, the track star and three-time Olympic champion known as Flo-Jo, who won her 1984 Olympic silver medal in a one-leg suit. Ms. Griffith Joyner also loved nail art and the incorporation of fashion into her racing uniforms (which were, in fact, the opposite of “the uniform”).
Pulling that direct line to another great black athlete during Black History Month expands the impact (and importance) of Ms. Williams’ choice beyond the court, making it even more regarded. Flo-Jo believed in the power of self-expression as a form of strength and in asserting one’s place in the world. Ms. Williams saw this too.
After all, she originally wore the black jumpsuit in part because she suffered from blood clots after her pregnancy, and she said compressing the entire body appearance helped resolve the issue. She also said (during a press conference on the match) that it made her feel “like a warrior, a warrior princess” – “from Wakanda, maybe.”
This at a time when many tipsters objected to the difficulty for women to return to world domination in tennis after childbirth. Ms Williams was determined to prove them wrong and set a new precedent. Her choice of dress made it just obvious – and impossible to ignore.
But the fact that she continued to do so after the initial hoo-ha turned what could have been a momentary kerfuffle into a cause. After all, the first catsuit worn on the pitch was modeled by Anne White, who wore a style… well, white to play her first round match at Wimbledon in 1985. This prompted the tournament manager to suggest that she wear a different outfit the next day. day. She gave in to that pressure, and that was the end until Ms.Williams appeared in her version not quite two decades later.
Ms. Williams, however, didn’t just double down on her original look. She tripled on it. And under the rule of change, one example of anything is fluke, two is coincidence, and three is a trend.
So what is this trend? It’s not just the garment itself. It’s about empowering players to act on their choices on the pitch and shattering old stereotypes about what is and isn’t appropriate for women. And who decides.
For decades, the style of tennis was rooted in a mysterious idea of femininity, even as other sports left such clichés behind. It has slowly been drawn into the 21st century. Ms. Williams is only energizing the process and forcing everyone to tackle the problem, from officials to viewers.
Indeed, thanks to the absurdity of Roland-Garros, the Women’s Tennis Association has created a new rule specifying specifically: “Mid-thigh compression leggings and shorts can be worn with or without a skirt, shorts or dress. “
So far this time around, the suit has met with a pretty positive response. “Greatness inspires greatnessIs the general feeling. As Ms. Williams progressed through the tournament, it became something of a supersuit: a symbol of not just her physical strength, but her strength of character.
As a result, whatever happens with her match against Naomi Osaka, the combination, in the words of a spectator, “Has already won everything.”
“I’ve always wanted to be a superhero, and that’s kind of my way of being a superhero,” Ms. Williams said at this press conference in 2018 when wearing the black jumpsuit. She is that, among so many other things. But she is also, we see more and more, the Amelia Bloomer of tennis.