The court isn’t a catwalk, but when the world’s top players convene on the Australian Open’s blue hard courts in January, their sense of style will be scrutinized almost as closely as their level of play.
“I think an important aspect of tennis apparel is the stars’ ability to go out on court and essentially realize the red-carpet effect they have,” says Ingrid Johnson, a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and co-author of the books Fabric Science and the Fabric Science Swatch Kit. “Players want to look fierce on court and the brands want to capitalize on those stars and their appeal.”
Tennis is a game of movement, and apparel that accommodates the body in motion is trending for the new season.
“The trend for 2013 is about color, fabrication and performance,” says Dawn Bennett, CEO of DJBennett.com, which specializes in luxury sports brands. “We’re seeing fabrics with built-in UV protection and moisture management techniques so that the clothes are not only elegant and comfortable, they’re functional and breathable in high-perspiration areas as well. A brand like L’Etoile Sport is using vintage fabrics combined with technical advantages to give players the best of both worlds, and PureLime is a brand making seamless bras and essentials for comfort on court. For men, we’re seeing traditional colors—red, white and blues and greens—in expertly-tailored apparel with the seams sewn in shirts to enhance mobility and minimize tugging when players move.”
Major brands including adidas, K-Swiss, Lacoste, and Nike generally launch new lines for top players at the four majors. Bright colors, bolder patterns, ultra light-weight materials, and one star’s sunlight-inspired vision are among the trends in store for the new season.
“One thing some top brands are doing for 2013 is using an ombré technique of fading a color into another color, which is something you see in women’s fashion,” says Rachel Smith, fashion and apparel coordinator for Tennis Express in Houston. “Early indications are that the spring lines will feature a lot of different prints and patterns. You’ll see a lot of yellow from Nike in general; Maria Sharapova’s Australian Open dress in particular will probably feature yellow. The design came about from Maria sending Nike images of sunlight and how sunlight inspired her.”
Venus Williams, who designs her dresses for her line, EleVen, debuted a new floral print dress at the U.S. Open and says she plans to play with the print for her 2013 line as well.
“I think that tennis fashions are getting edgier and a little more sexy, and what I’ve noticed is tennis was always six months to a year behind perceived fashion trends, but now tennis trends are closer to what’s currently going on in fashion,” says Carla Hilbig, a former tennis player who created Down the Line Sportswear. “Bolder colors, styles are more fitted and there’s more femininity involved: A lot of ruching and ruffles, but from a player perspective I think the one player who pushes fashion forward is Venus, because she’s a designer and has her own line and can go outside the box a bit, whereas some of the big brands that are mass marketing don’t really do that.”
Champions including Rene Lacoste, Fred Perry, Chris Evert, Evonne Goolagong, Bjorn Borg, Andre Agassi, Gabriela Sabatini, and the Williams sisters have influenced the evolution of tennis style. While the athleticism, explosiveness and pace of the game have progressed, some experts believe tennis fashion has not stayed in step with the aesthetic evolution of tennis.
“When we think about some of the baggy, oversized attire you see on some players, it’s so outdated and unflattering,” Johnson says. “Think of the days of McEnroe, Connors, Borg, Evert, and Navratilova, you had the bad boys as well as players who were very cool on court. Tennis apparel seemed edgier then, and young people would wear it on the street. I know people will argue with me on this point, but wearing your Lacoste sweater looks snooty rather than edgy today. The reality is people want to look trendy and have fun with fashion, and unfortunately a lot of tennis fashion I see these days doesn’t look fun or edgy.”
Clothes don’t make the player, but sometimes a special player can make the clothes more appealing.
“Without a doubt, Sharapova is a player [whose apparel sells],” says Smith. “I know at Tennis Express, no matter how Sharapova is playing her outfits always sell right away. People know if Maria’s wearing it, then it’s going to be fashionable. On the men’s side, definitely Federer’s apparel attracts a lot of interest. Federer’s Nike clothes tend to be more high-end price points—some of the RF polos sell for $85 and some of the tees are $75—but he’s so stylish and has such a loyal following, it sells.”