As if all eyes hadn’t already been on Serena Williams this week in her return to Grand Slam tennis, the 23-time major champion made sure to turn every head with the black, body-length catsuit she wore in her straight-set win over Krystna Pliskova.
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Serena said the outfit was inspired by motherhood,
and the health benefits of compression, but like all of her famous (and infamous) outfits from the past two decades, you have to believe some of it was just the fact that it looked really, really good.
As Serena’s newest tennis look continues to make a stir,
looks back at her previous fashion hits and misses, telling the story of each outfit with archived quotes from the tennis queen herself.
2002 U.S. Open
“If you don’t have a decent shape, this isn’t the outfit to have,” Serena said after debuting her showstopping catsuit at the 2002 U.S. Open.
Though she’d worn interesting kits on the court before (usually notable for their bright colors), the most memorable fashion choice from Serena’s early days were the hair beads that gave her and Venus a distinctive family look and successfully set them apart from the rest of the field.
(They weren’t very practical, however. In a 1999 U.S. Open quarterfinal, Venus twice had beads fall out during a match with Lindsay Davenport. The second time drew a hindrance violation on break point that sent Venus into a downward spiral that effectively ended the match.)
And then came the catsuit. Designed by Puma (not Nike, as many remember), the black, skin-tight, faux-leather outfit wasn’t technically a catsuit, as it ended at the top of the thigh, not on the ankle. (The all-white bodsyuit Anne White infamously wore to Wimbledon in 1985 better fit the definition.)
Semantics aside, it immediately drew worldwide attention and garnered almost as many questions in her first press conference as did the match.
“It makes me run faster and jump higher and it’s really sexy,” Serena said. “[Venus told me it’s] really fun, really exciting and very sexy. I mean, she just basically described me.”
Paired with a $29,000 Harry Winston bracelet, the mini-catsuit appeared to be a functional mess that looked difficult to play in, but Serena apparently didn’t mind. She won the tournament.
At the same tournament, Anna Kournikova drew scrutiny for her mini-miniskirt and midriff-baring top. And then, days after Serena debuted the catsuit, men’s player Tommy Haas was barred from wearing a sleeveless shirt. (A rule which would change in time for Rafael Nadal to popularize the look.)
Serena, who defiantly declared “nobody is ever going to tell me what to wear,” while talking about her outfit, actually submitted a picture of the catsuit for pre-approval from U.S. Open officials.
2004 U.S. Open
In the 1920s, tennis legend Suzanne Lenglen took the court in a corset-free dress that revealed her ankles. She was promptly dubbed “the French hussy.” My, how times have changed.
At the 2004 U.S. Open, Serena alternately wore a denim skirt, studded crop top, leather motorcycle jacket, boots, golfball-sized earrings and, when the denim skirt became too unwieldy, a spandex bikini bottom that looked more swimsuit issue than center court.
This was the first U.S. Open Serena played under her new Nike contract and the partnership got off to a headline-making start. Serena entered the stadium in the jacket, while sporting boots (that were actually leg wraps) that made her look like she could have been Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sidekick in the Terminator movies).
Whether you thought the outfit was bold or overindulgent, the whole gambit was brilliant. The first week of Grand Slams don’t attract much attention from the general public. Stars play unknowns in matches that are less competitive than exhibitions, and without any of the flair or excitement. Serena helped change that. She gave people a reason to watch and in turn made international headlines that helped build her brand and grow her persona, on and off the court.
The denim look was inspired by Andre Agassi (who had an equally dubious trial with the fabric during his career) and James Dean. “This is a ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ line,”
Williams said at the time.
“There’s no cause for me to be such a rebel that I’m being right now.” (Which doesn’t make any sense, but forget it: she’s rolling.)
Serena initially wasn’t enamored of the outfit, especially the boots. She “thought they were going to be hot” but declared them “non-sexy.” They grew on her. By the start of the Open, she was petitioning the USTA to let her wear the boots during her first-round match. Organizers said no, but Serena said she considered wearing them for the first set anyway.
2015 Australian Open
The year of Serena initially started as “the year of the back.”
Wearing a neon yellow dress with strategic cutouts on the lower and upper back, Serena stormed to the 2015 Australian Open title, setting the stage for a historic run at the Grand Slam that ended three sets short at the U.S. Open. But first, Serena used fashion to frame the mood.
“You can be beautiful and powerful at the same time,” she said of her athletic Nike look. “This whole year is about the back and strength and women and power. We wanted to look at my back all year, so all year you’ll be seeing my back!”
Controversially, Serena was asked to twirl after a match in Melbourne, in order to show off the outfit’s back design she’d been discussing. Serena obliged. (I didn’t say it was a good controversy.)
Over the years, she’s said her on-court fashion sense has gone through distinct periods. She was trendy early in her career (all the bright colors and form-fitting tennis dresses), had a romantic period with pinks, reds, pleats and other more conservative fare. (Often seen at Wimbledon.) This dress was a throwback.
“Sometimes I’m a little nervous (wearing new outfits),” she said. “But this one I think is really good. It’s really trendy and young, but at the same time it also has a great message and it’s also really nice.”
Not that the dress didn’t come without its drawbacks. “One peanut and I’m going to break [it],” she joked, “so I try not to eat that much.”
2015 U.S. Open
In the biggest collaboration yet between Nike and any of its tennis players,
Serena helped develop the Serena Greatness line
, which had its timely debut in the tournament at which the world No. 1 was trying to become the second woman to ever win the Grand Slam (all four major tournaments in the same season).
There was a night look and a day look (the former was a black dress with a peach snakeskin bodice, the latter was a peach dress that camouflaged the snakeskin a little more), a bomber jacket and sneakers.
The jacket had the message “you are strong, powerful and beautiful,” written in her own handwriting, on the inside lining. And the shoes – well, the shoes were a coup, according to Serena.
“These are the first tennis shoes this cool, and I do say so,” she said.
It was interesting; while shoes are generally the first thing you look at on an athlete, they were always secondary (tertiary?) on Serena. These shoes kind of show why. Stan Smith’s they aren’t.
2016 U.S. Open
Serena was taking cues from another empowering superhero movie,
. Her pink compression sleeves (black at night) were meant to evoke “a character of power and strength who is also unafraid to exhibit a softer side.” Who was that character? “It’s me,” she said with her typical bravado.
Serena was “kinda in love”
with her Wimbledon dress in 2016
maybe because, for once, her kit wasn’t the one making headlines. While Serena has her own Nike line, the company puts its other players in a different outfit, one that was deemed too short (they looked like T-shirts that were slightly too long) and had to be altered on site.
In her first design with Nike, Serena sported a white and silver silk dress that immediately signaled a shift from her colorful style at Puma. “(It’s) a corset design making me look very, very slim and trim. I call it a corset dress. Very Hollywood glamour with the silk.”
She later spoke about her early days in tennis fashion: “In the beginning, I wanted the craziest designs I could think of, and I didn’t even care if they worked,”
she told the New York Times in 2015
. “But most of the time, they have been able to make it happen. I’ve learned to moderate myself a bit over the years and think about customers going into the stores. Sometimes I have to reel myself back in. But then I just think: Save it for the couture line!”
For her November wedding to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, Serena wore a stunning dress designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, the same designer who made Kate Middleton’s dress for her wedding to Prince William.
She told Vogue: “I flew to London to meet with Sarah and ended up falling in love with the ball gown silhouette, which is completely the opposite of what I ever thought I would choose for myself. I loved the idea of doing a really spectacular ball gown, and it has turned out to be such an incredibly special piece.”
Serena initially had a different idea. “When (
edior) Anna Wintour asked me what I wanted to wear I said “”a cape; I just want to wear a cape.”
She also wore two Versace dresses during various parts of the evening and, by the end of the night, had changed into jewel-encrusted Nikes.
2015 Wimbledon Champions ball
Serena didn’t talk much about the stunning ballgown she
wore to the 2015 Wimbledon Champion’s Ball,
which is understandable. Sometimes you just let the clothes do the talking.
2014 U.S. Open
“If you aren’t looking your best, you surely won’t play your best,” Venus Williams has said in the past, a statement that Serena seems to have taken to heart. In 2014, she debuted another head-turner at the U.S. Open.
The AP, of all places, called it “sizzling.”
The leopard print dress with a black base at night and a more colorful (and tame) palate in the afternoon, somehow made Serena look both calm and ferocious.
After one match, ESPN’s Pam Shriver asked Serena about the dress and the eventual champion smiled, growled and made a swatting cat motion. Look good, feel good.
2007 U.S. Open
During her first-round match at the U.S. Open, Serena became troubled by a bow that had been placed on the pink trim of her outfit (that kind of looks like a dress version of her French Open bodysuit). Not that it was necessarily the bow’s fault.
“I wasn’t playing well at all,” she said. “I was making so many errors. It was so frustrating out there. I had to blame something.”
Serena Williams has known, almost since the beginning, that she’d be at the forefront of sporting fashion. “A lot of people try to keep up with [me and Venus], but it’s pretty hard,”
she said in 2001
. “We’re the original… the first, the last.”
And, in case you were wondering, “yeah,” she’s said, “I have all my (old) outfits.”
This is is a syndicated post. Read the original at ftw.usatoday.com
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