Sunday, September 5, 2010

Some thoughts on women’s tennis fashion

Fashion seems to be becoming more and more of a forefront issue in tennis. Back in the day, your choices were to look as feminine and girlish as Chrissy Evert, or as laid-back and comfortable as Martina Navratilova in her short pants. I’ve admitted before that I have always been a Navratilova type of dresser. Indeed, the outfit worn last night by Alexandra Dulgheru – the white top and black shorts – is for me standard tennis issue.

But this is not to say that I have no interest in fashion. On the contrary, I am quite the fashion addict, and have been known to acknowledge my powerlessness to shopaholism. My recent disappointment with the items from Venus Williams’ “Eleven” line featured by the Gilt Groupe was because I logged on with every intention of making a purchase. I found however that there was nothing that I wanted to buy.

Despite this setback, as a would-be fashionista I find that I have been developing a growing appreciation of good tennis fashion. For me the best tennis outfits are put out by designers who understand how to combine form with function, who are talented enough to fuse performance with style, who are creative enough to produce designs that facilitate movement while also providing adequate boob support, and who also use fabrics that are breathable while making use of eye-popping color. Yes this is certainly asking a lot. That is probably why so many product lines fail.

Some designers reach for cuteness at the expense of practicality. My cutest tennis outfit by far is the pink bubble dress put out by Serena and Nike a couple of years ago. But the dress is hugely impractical. After the first rally, it starts riding up my butt, and I find myself becoming acutely aware of the band of elastic – the one responsible for the bubble effect – that is slowly moving up my ass. The effect is one of both discomfort and distraction.

So when I am playing serious tennis, I do not wear Serena’s dress. It’s a great dress for women who just wish to be seen posing with a tennis racket or who perhaps come to a tennis court hoping to attract male amorous attentions. But it’s not so useful for playing tennis in.

When you’re serious about tennis, it’s not enough to just look cute in your outfit – although also looking attractive may be a very reasonable goal. As a serious tennis player, you want to wear an outfit that, in addition to being pretty, also makes practical sense. An outfit that will not distract you from your focus on returning the ball.

As a result, the location of the pockets is an important concern in tennis, regardless of how attractive the dress may be. I remember some time ago when Jennifer Hudson got criticized for wearing an Andre Leon Talley-approved brown dress with deep plunging pockets and a silver micro bolero jacket to the Oscars. All I could think at the time was that I could see a modified version of it being perfect for tennis.

But I totally concede that some of these concerns may be less true for the pros, and that what separates them from me is their ability to remain focused and productive despite the feeling of a band of elastic riding up their asses. On the other hand, when a pro wears a tennis outfit, the goal of the manufacturer is to sell thousands of copies to people like me. So that concerns about practicality and usefulness have also to be infused into the attractiveness of any fashion line.

The tennis fashion market is clearly a growing one. It must also be hugely financially lucrative because nothing else explains why more and more tennis players seem to be signing on to attach their names to tennis fashion lines. Manufacturers are clearly cognizant of the fact that fans of a player will naturally consider buying whatever she is selling. And quite frankly, this is the only reason I own Serena's silly pink bubble dress. It was purchased in a moment of unthinking fan-dom as I perused the Tennis Warehouse website. In hindsight I still sometimes ask myself what the heck was I thinking.

Because it is painfully clear that not all professional players have a good understanding of tennis fashion, not even ones that claim to have gone to online fashion school. The result is an inconsistent market with a confusing array of choices for the consumer, as established designers find themselves having to compete for space with young upstarts with no experience in either design or the business of fashion.

(Part 1 of 2)

NEW HAVEN, CT - AUGUST 28: Top seed Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark challenges a call while playing Nadia Petrova of Russia during the final of the Pilot Pen tennis tournament at the Connecticut Tennis Center on August 28, 2010 in New Haven, Connecticut. Wozniacki beat Petrova 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

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