Monday, September 6, 2010

The selling of sex as tennis fashion

U S Open 2010 D6 04/09/10 Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) wins third round match Photo Anne Parker Fotosports International Photo via NewscomToday’s tennis fashion offers a myriad of choices, ranging from inexperienced but earnest tennis pros seduced by the glamor implied in having their names attached to a clothing line, to established professionals who actually know what they are doing. The result is a particularly confusing market.

But the one thing that the tennis fashion market seems to agree on is that sex sells. Women tennis pros no longer walk around in the dowdy-looking outfits worn by the likes of Hingis and Graf. Now it’s all sex all the time. And within this niche of the tennis fashion market, you also have a dizzying array of options.

On the one hand, you have your choice of top designers such as Stella McCartney who has been dressing Caroline Wozniacki for some time. And Caroline has never looked more beautiful or sexy. In fact I never thought of those words to describe her until I saw her in the gorgeous white and gold dress she wore at the Pilot Pen. And then she topped that with a skin tight opaque green/black and yellow number at the US Open, both designed by Stella McCartney for adidas. Not only does Caro succeed in looking hot, but I can also see a lot of teens and young women wearing versions of these outfits to play tennis. They are the perfect combination of performance and style. And they are also very sexy, an important selling point.

And then there are the do-it-yourselfers like Venus Williams who seems to be motivated mainly by becoming the premier topic of conversation – not at all unlike your Lindsay Lohans and Kim Kasdashians who seem to go to lengths to remain on paparazzi radar. Except that in Venus’ case, her route to feeding an apparent addiction to public attention seems to be via always managing to get everyone talking about her spectacularly awful fashion choices.

Because make no bones about it, Venus looks ridiculous. The sparkling number that she has to pull down after every single rally, after every single ball exchange, after every single serve – well that is just not a practical choice for tennis, is it? Worse, it is an ugly dress, the kind of cheap-looking number that you might wear to go clubbing on a Saturday night. The butt-hugging fabric would be right at home when dancing to the latest beats by Drake and Jay-Z and hoping that you would get picked up around 3am when most men would be drunk enough to find you attractive. Venus’ goal may be to be found sexy and attractive. What she actually achieves is a pathetic level of absurdity.

No doubt it is a difficult challenge to find the right balance between practicality, sex, and fashion. Going too much in any one direction over the other may result in products that remain on the shelf. I felt this way about Sharapova’s triple-layered apron-type outfit at the Australian Open earlier this year. It was not only an impractical choice for the weather, but the outfit seemed to be too fussy for playing tennis. Since then Sharapova seems to have learned a thing or two about fashion. Or maybe she’s been sensible enough to recognize her limitations and has hired a proper designer.

The resulting navy and teal number she chose for this year’s US Open is very chic. I like the dark buttons across the V-chest line, and the contrasting collar and ruffle. I also like the navy and black number with the piping along the hip line. Gorgeous for night tennis or for playing in the fall. Both dresses are pretty, sexy, and practical, the right combination of options that makes for the best-selling sport clothing lines.

Other players seem to aim so much for sex appeal that you wonder why they didn’t just show up to play in a sports bra and a pantie. Victoria Azarenka’s skirt slit is so high she might as well not be wearing the damn skirt. Not surprisingly, she apparently also aspires to be a model.

But it is possible for an outfit to be outright sexy and not lose its performance edge. In this category I would include the burgundy and fuchsia dress that adidas developed for Ivanovic. It is a supportively boobtastic number with a simple figure-flattering A-line design, and an interesting color combination that would be attractive to ordinary players.

And then there are those tennis players who seem to wear primarily what seems practical and who do not seem to be motivated by sex appeal. These are the women who do not appear to participate in their own objectification. They end up looking good not because the outfit is particularly sexy, but because the choice and combination of colors and practicality happen to look good on them. A good example is Kim Clijsters’ blue and white outfit by Fila. It’s the kind of simple and cute but practical outfit that most tennis players would actually buy and wear.

For what it’s worth, here is my advice for would-be designers – and that seems increasingly to be anyone with a smattering of success on the tennis court. I think it’s important to understand that the last thing a woman needs to be doing on a tennis court is re-arranging herself in any way. When you have to constantly be pulling and tugging and adjusting, well then there is something wrong with the design because it is clearly distracting. So maybe it’s time you realized that by putting out and/or wearing these crappy outfits, you’ve succeeded in surrounding yourself with a bunch of “Yes” folks who may feel powerless to be honest with you. This may be why no one is telling you that you are looking like a cheap ho.

(Part 2 of 2)


Andy said...

Fantastic post! Obviously you also have Anna Kournikova who was the poster child of this.

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