“Woman’s suit”: Why athletes still wear uncomfortable clothes

THIS WEEK TENNIS PLAYER ALIZE CORNE , without leaving the court, changed her jersey during the US Open match – and, to her surprise, received a warning from the referee . He, in turn, followed a long-standing rule, which the United States Tennis Association thought of canceling after the incident. This case once again reminds that women’s sports still remain monstrously conservative, and traditions and ideas of “femininity” that have outlived their time in it are still placed above banal convenience.  

First of all, this concerns the sports dress code, which is quite paradoxical: the production of clothing for professional sports has long turned into an arms race, and nevertheless there are whole disciplines where athletes still have to wear uncomfortable uniforms and “woman’s costumes.” Why does this happen?

Closed club

Ask someone you know to draw (or at least describe in words) a tennis player, and nine out of ten times you will get a figure in a skirt. Despite the fact that there is no strict prescription to wear a skirt in modern women’s tennis for a long time, and athletes from the first dozen of the WTA rating regularly go to the court in shorts, the stereotype continues to live on.

“It’s accepted” is a universal explanation for any tradition that looks strange today, and tennis is no exception. The roots of tennis dress codes are to be found in the history of the private clubs that evolved into modern tennis tournaments. Many clubs have existed since the nineteenth century, when the standards of appearance were somewhat different (for example, women were often forced to play in corsets ), and are somewhat reminiscent of closed schools. Albeit without a uniform of the established pattern, but with very specific ideas about what style of clothes and what colors should be worn by its members – in order to differ from members of other clubs.  

The most striking example in this sense is, of course, Wimbledon with its strict color code . All participants in the tournament, which grew up in 1877 on the basis of the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club, are required to enter the court in all white, and white of certain shades – no cream. As an exception, brand logos are allowed, as well as edging and single stripes no more than a centimeter wide. The restriction, dictated by Victorian fashion, was explained by the fact that there are less visible traces of sweat on white clothes (and, of course, it was forbidden to sweat a British lady of the 19th century). Already in the twentieth century, the rule was pretty infuriating for male players – because of him, Andre Agassi boycotted the tournament for three years in a row, although he then surrendered, but Wimbledon is not going to cancel it and is jealously monitoring its implementation.       

However, this does not mean that tennis players fail to circumvent formal prohibitions , or even just mock the Victorian code: for example, Anne White in 1985 angered the organizers of the tournament with a unitard overalls, in the 2000s and 10s the Williams sisters protested against white colored wristbands, head bandages and nails, while Bethany Mattek-Sands stepped onto the court in a designer suit studded with stylized tennis balls. And, by the way, one should not write off the rules of large tournaments as a tribute to traditions. After the same Williams went to the Roland Garros court in a Nike suit, clearly inspired by the Black Panther, the French Tennis Federation announced that it would not be allowed to enter the tournament in this form from now on.  

Princess sport

Figure skating is another sport where riots against uncomfortable or just plain boring clothes happen regularly and resemble an altercation over appearance with a school head teacher. So, after the double scandal at the Winter Olympics, when Katharina Witt went on the ice in a leotard that opened the hips, and her rival Debi Thomas in a tight-fitting jumpsuit, the International Skating Union (ISU) made a skirt covering the thighs mandatory for skaters. In 2004, the Katarina Rule was revised, allowing shorts and overalls in addition to skirts, and introduced a more general wording: yes for “modest, dignified and athletic” clothing, no for anything that falls under the definition of “ostentatious”. “Theatrical” or “unacceptable nudity” (the latter, however, does not deter skaters from using flesh-colored costumes).   

Although women’s figure skating still has an image of a “sport of princesses”, the style of the costumes in it does not have the significance that is usually attributed to it. And if in the past subjective assessments for artistry were exhibited, among other things, for ” presentability “, now the judges are more interested in how athletes keep themselves on the ice than in what they are wearing. At the same time, few people deny the existence of stereotypes of the “correct skater” – they make themselves felt, even if they are not fixed at the level of the rules. And of course, the performance of the Frenchwoman Mahe Berenice Meite, who skated the Olympic program to a medley of Beyoncé’s songs ( in leggings, we note ), does not fit into this stereotype.

“The judges expect to see a certain type of girls, and if you don’t fit the type of a cute little skater … Well, you have to adjust to the judges, ” says figure skater Katrina Nelken. – You don’t want to stand out with your clothes if you don’t have cover [in the form of a complex program]. It’s easier to follow traditions. ” “Many judges have been working for years, and many of them do not believe that a young girl or woman should not wear a dress. The dress is a traditional outfit, ”explains trainer Rene Gelesinski.      

Eye candy

Do not write off the general disdain for women’s sports, which, in turn, contributes to its sexualization: “If women cannot achieve high results, even if they look attractive.” This is what former FIFA President Sepp Blatter hinted at in 2004 when he said that women’s football would become more popular if players played in “more feminine clothes, like volleyball”: “For example, they could wear tighter shorts.” Blatter’s point of view, later fired over corruption allegations, was not supported by women’s football, but overall it illustrates well the traditional sexism in the sports world. 

This, in turn, is reflected in the design of clothes that athletes are forced to wear under contracts with brands. Sometimes this leads to embarrassment like what happened at the same Wimbledon two years ago. Then several tennis players at once complained about the inconvenience of the uniforms released by Nike specifically for the tournament: short loose-fitting dresses did not help much to play the game. “When I served, it was billowing, and I had the feeling that the dress was flying all over the place,” Rebecca Peterson shared her impressions. One of her colleagues, Katie Boulter, solved the problem by girdling the dress with a headband, another, Lucia Hradetskaya, could not stand it and forged the leggings. The retro design has failed.   

The good news is that while sexist traditions make themselves felt every now and then, in most sports, the priority of convenience is hardly disputed by anyone. The mutual benefit of comfortable sportswear is obvious: the more practical the uniform, the higher the chances of an athlete for success, and the higher the athlete’s achievements, the better for the brand that wears her. 

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