Tennis, Anyone?

June 25, 2012 § 8 Comments

art deco tennis illustration McCall Style News May 1928

McCall Style News, May 1928.

Wimbledon kicks off today. In honour of the world’s oldest tennis tournament, here’s a selection of patterns for playing the most fashionable sport.

Tennis Vogue June 1927 cover by Harriet Meserole 15 July 1927 US edition

Vogue UK, late June 1927. Illustration: Harriet Meserole. Image via G1Art.

Modern tennis fashion really got underway in the 1920s, when tennis became a popular leisure activity and couturiers like Chanel, Patou, and Vionnet designed tennis wear to meet the demand for fashionable luxury sportswear. (For more on ’20s tennis fashion see the Voguepedia article Tennis Dressing.)

Typically, sewing patterns for tennis outfits show a woman holding a tennis racquet. The Deco cover of the McCall Style News shown at the top of this post portrays McCall 5277 as a dress for tennis, but the pattern envelope doesn’t advertise its suitability for sports. The illustration simply shows a day dress with the skirt pleated in front; the handkerchief collar and scarf girdle are optional:

McCall 5277 1920s tennis dress McCall's catalogue illustration

McCall 5277 (1928) in the McCall’s catalogue, 1930. Image courtesy of echopoint.

In the early 1930s, sports dresses had lower hemlines, but could be worn unbuttoned in the back, like this McCall’s sports dress from 1933:

McCall 7663 early 1930s sports dress for tennis

McCall 7663 (1933) Sports dress. Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

This pattern was illustrated on the cover of the Spring 1934 McCall Fashion Book:

Cycling and tennis ensebles on the cover of McCall Fashion Book, Spring 1934

McCall Fashion Book, Spring 1934.

(Catalogue image courtesy of Judy Yates of Vintage4me2.)

Playsuits and shorts became fashionable tennis wear after American tennis champion Alice Marble wore shorts to a professional match in 1932. These McCall’s sports separates include a tennis outfit with high-waisted shorts:

McCall 9180 1930s Slacks, shorts, and shirt pattern for tennis

McCall 9180 (1937) Slacks, shorts, and shirt. Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Lauren of Wearing History has made the McCall 9180 trousers; you can see a photo by clicking the pattern image.

The ‘masculine’ shorts trend continued into wartime, which also saw a return to the sports dress. This Advance tennis dress has a front zipper and inverted pleat, and includes panties for underneath:

Advance 2754 WW2 1940s day or tennis dress and panties pattern

Advance 2754 (c. 1941) Day or tennis dress and panties. Image via Vivian Belle Vintage.

In the postwar period tennis dresses or skirts, pleated or plain, became the standard tennis wear. The silhouettes reflected current trends, but with higher hemlines, as with this tennis dress with pleated skirt and cinched waist:

McCall 7170 1940s tennis dress and shorts pattern

McCall 7170 (1948) Tennis dress and shorts. Image via eBay.

This Vogue tennis dress is a shorter version of the day dress also included in the pattern (check out the vintage camera):

Vogue 9101 1950s tennis dress and shorts pattern

Vogue 9101 (1957) Dress and shorts. Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Tennis hemlines are rising with these Vogue sports separates, which include a sleeveless blouse, shorts, and tennis skirt:

Vogue 9771 late 1950s blouse, skirt and shorts pattern

Vogue 9771 (1959) Blouse, skirt, and shorts. Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

More perky pleats on this early 1960s tennis dress from McCall’s:

McCalls 6825 1960s tennis dress and panties pattern

McCall’s 6825 (1963) Tennis dress and panties. Image via Etsy.

The popularity of tennis in the 1970s prompted the release of a wide variety of tennis patterns, for dresses, visors, and even racquet covers and other accessories. Vogue Patterns licensed tennis wear from Anne Klein, Penfold, and Anne Klein for Penfold (illustrated on the June 1976 news cover here). These Vogue Patterns magazine covers show an Anne Klein tennis outfit in action and Regine Jaffrey modelling a Vogue tennis shirt and visor:

Vogue Patterns magazine April/May 1973 Anne Klein tennis cover

Vogue 2841 by Anne Klein on the cover of Vogue Patterns magazine, April/May 1973. Image via Etsy.

Model Regine Jaffrey in a tennis shirt and visor, Vogue Patterns magazine Spring 1975

Vogue Patterns, Spring 1975. Model: Regine Jaffrey. Image via eBay.

Butterick licensed designs by women’s tennis champion Chris Evert, including this pattern for a tennis dress, briefs, and visor:

Butterick 4688 1970s Chrissie Evert for Puritan Fashions pattern for tennis dress, briefs, and visor

Butterick 4688 by Chrissie Evert for Puritan Fashions (c. 1977). Tennis dress, briefs, and visor. Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Karen Bjornson models this Penfold set consisting of a sleeveless tennis dress, t-shirt, shorts, and wrap miniskirt:

Vogue 1635 1970s tennis dress, t-shirt, shorts, and wrap skirt pattern

Vogue 1635 (c. 1977) Tennis dress, t-shirt, shorts, and wrap skirt. Model: Karen Bjornson. Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

It’s interesting how the history of women’s tennis wear is a history of female athletes pushing the envelope: from May Sutton Bundy’s rolled-up sleeves, in 1905, and Suzanne Lenglen’s higher hemlines, to Alice Marble’s shorts and Serena Williams’ recent subversion (with hot pink briefs) of the rule of Wimbledon whites. (See a Guardian Wimbledon slideshow here and Vogue’s tennis slideshow here.) Women’s tennis fashions insist on femininity while offering an escape from modesty.

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