Monday, 29 June 2015

Anyone for tennis? women, dress and wimbledon - social history

 as it offers insight into a cultural and social history of women's participation in sport . 
For background on the history of the tournament see the official Wimbledon website 

 In 1884, 19 year old  Maud Edith Eleanor Watson won the first ever Ladies’ Singles title. Playing in white corsets and petticoats, from a field of thirteen competitors, she defeated her older sister in the final to claim the title and the ward of a silver flower basket valued at 20 Guineas.  

On 27th July 1884 , The Observer reported (LSE staff/student login)
that the popularity of tennis as a past time amongst women had led to the decision at Wimbledon to  give a prize to members of the 'fairer sex' and 'This  novelty proved a great entertainment for the spectators'.

One of the concerns about women's participation in sport focused on clothing. A contemporary article from Vogue
Fashion: Vogue: Will woman ever be moved to amend her costume. (1893, Jan 07). Vogue, 1, 49-49, 50. discussed the issues relating to dress reform and the 'freedom from petticoats'

The earliest players continued to wear corsets. However by the 1920s  comfort had prevailed. French player Suzanne Rachel Flore Lenglen,  who won 31 Championship titles between 1914 and 1926, was one of the first women to abandon corsets. At the time she was regarded as controversial both for her style of dress, celebrity lifestyle and decision to play as a professional. Some typical headlines for the time include:
Suzanne, as film actress (1926, Apr 23). The Manchester Guardian
Vogue magazine featured her in a number of articles on how to dress stylishly for tennis.
' This ideal tennis frock is a sleeveless model of white washable silk with box pleats across the front and a plain panel at the centre back. Its extreme simplicity and practicality are important factors in its chic'

In Australian Womans Weekly 1933 (Available via Trove) there is a fascinating picture of a practical type of shorts she designed to allow movement without displaying too much of the legs. By July 1934, the magazine was proclaiming that similar costumes were so popular that
Other newspapers and magazines published articles and adverts expressing concerns about womens dress and sport.
In a 1926 advertisement
CALLISTHENES."Varieties Of Correctness."  Selfridges stated that they were equipped to advise on correctness of dress in their sports wear department Times [London, England] 26 Apr. 1926: 12.
and in 1928 Vogue published an article
Fashion: New tennis rules demand white and ban sleeves. (1928, Jul 15). Vogue, 72, 62-62, 63.which promoted the once shocking sleeveless dresses as practical and fashionable for modern women playing tennis.

However dress controversies continued throughout the 20th century. In 1949 the short skirts worn by Gertrude Moran provoked a storm as they were designed to show her frilly underwear. The New York Times reported.
Gorgeous gussie's lace-fringed panties no. 1 attraction on Wimbledon's courts. (1949, Jun 21). She was condemned as vulgar and a sin by the All England Club and in 1950 the New York Times reported Gussie Moran's designer loses wimbledon job over new panties. (1950, Feb 23). New York Times  The Australian Womens Weekly was as late as 1955 publishing articles on the stir at Wimbledon

To do more research on these continuing controversies!
Try the specialist Kenneth Richie Library based at Wimbledon which has the official archive
LSE Library search has references to materials from the womens Library @LSE
See our Gender studies subject guide for help in locating more journal articles using our databases and historic newspapers online.

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