How did the tennis style develop at Roland Garros?

 - Elodie Iriart

Roland Garros, tennis and fashion: an endless love story.

Idoles Roland-Garros Style©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

Since the end of the 1920s players and spectators at the Roland-Garros tournament have invariably led fashion trends on the courts, on the walkways and in the stands.

It was in the Parisian arena, France’s clay-court temple, that René Lacoste’s famous crocodile logo saw the light of day. It was also there that the first pleated skirts were shortened considerably.

Over time and throughout different eras, tennis players have succeeded in combining style with on-court performances.

An iconic platform for the sport-chic style, the Roland-Garros Tournament and the tennis world in general continue to weave their love story with fashion, and to set exciting new trends.

Dressed for success

Over the years at Roland Garros, the outfits of tennis champions have undergone major changes and stylistic revolutions. The players asserted their influence and popularised tennis fashion. In the Roaring Twenties, the first such revolution was spearheaded by Suzanne Lenglen, who, in tandem with the great French haute couture designer Jean Patou, launched the “sporty silhouette” trend. And with that, “sportswear” was born!

Lenglen, known as “La Divine”, took part un the women’s emancipation, took part in the women’s emancipation movement on the clay courts, which saw bodies liberated and dresses shortened. Pleated skirt and turbans made their first appearance. At the end of the 1920s, René Lacoste took a turn at blending comfort, freedom of movement and elegance. Lacoste invented the petit piqué polo shirt, which quickly became the must-wear item on the courts, and which, over 90 years later, remains an icon of sport-chic style.

At the beginning of the 1930s, transformations took hold on the men’s side as well. Henry “Bunny” Austin decided to put his trousers away for good, making shorts the preferred male option in tennis tournaments. In the 1950s, another change, driven by Italian player Lea Pericoli, occurred in the women’s game. She was dressed by Ted Tinling, the avant-garde British designer, who caused something of an earthquake in the tennis world with his audacious creations that were completely at odds with the standards of the time.

In the 1990s, Andre Agassi overturned convention and shook up the accepted male tennis style with his emblematic grunge look. More recently, Serena Williams has boldly rewritten the rules of style and continues to play her part in liberating athletes’ bodies.

Suppliers to serve

The 1990s saw trainers, sweatshirts and tracksuits leave the tennis courts and stadiums and make their way onto the streets. The “sportswear” craze reached its peak with the general public, and the big sports brands were not slow to understand the phenomenon. This decade marked the advent of equipment suppliers, who married performance and functionality with style and fashion.

This trend intensified in the 2000s, when sponsoring became a serious issue for sporting brands. Tennis stars took great care of their appearance and were no longer afraid to express their personality on the court.

From then on, fans thought nothing of donning their favourite players’ outfits on a daily basis. Whether out for a walk, enjoying the weekend, or working at the office, the “athleisure” trend had established itself and was set to endure.

Designer players

Following in the footsteps of Lacoste, a number of players have tried their hand at fashion design:

• British player Fred Perry, who was crowned champion at Roland Garros in 1935 and was a three-time Wimbledon winner, switched his focus to the clothing industry by launching his own brand towards the end of the 1940s. The British version of the polo shirt was born! 

• During the 1960s, Italian player Sergio Tacchini founded his own sportwear brand and revolutionised the player-supplier relationship by sponsoring a number of athletes.

• In 2007, Venus Williams launched her first line of tennis apparel, which was followed by a new lifestyle range in 2016.

• In 2012, Danish star Caroline Wozniacki launched her own underwear line.

©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Fashion shows on Court Central

Although sport and tennis had paved the way for the public to don sportswear and athleisure day-to-day, something different began to occur: the “preppy“ dress code prevalent in the tennis world– i.e. pleated skirts, v-neck sweaters, Bermuda shorts, pinstripes and more – flitted from the stadiums to everyday life.

These days, however, another phenomenon has emerged. Both male and female players have seized on the conventions and trends of the catwalk to make themselves stand out on the courts and showcase their own styles. In this respect, fashion is the chosen mode of expression. At Roland Garros in particular, players test the water, take risks, make assertions and put themselves on display.

Every spring in Paris, another mini-“Fashion Week” takes place, as the Court Central is transformed into a catwalk and athletes show off attractive outfits designed especially for the occasion by their suppliers.