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Inside the Museum: The woman in white

New additions to the Museum Collection
by Sarah Kirkham
Thursday 13 March 2014

Inside the Museum is a blog from the Wimbledon Museum cataloguers. This month they are dwelling on fashion...

What better way to start than with the first 2014 addition to the Museum Collection!

This is a stylish white sleeveless dress designed with a drop waist, sailor-style knotted tie, pleated skirt and metal zip with the pull in the shape of a small tennis racket. The hem of the tie and skirt has been trimmed with white satin. The dress is made from a fabric known as Sharkskin and was worn at The Championships in 1956 and 1957 by Anthea Warwick, a British player who competed at Wimbledon between 1955 and 1960. Mrs Warwick recalls that the material “pleated beautifully and was very comfortable to play in”. Sharkskin is a woven fabric with a crisp and pebbly surface and chalk white lustre. These types of lighter man-made fabrics had started to make an appearance in the 1940s.

The dress was designed by the well-known tennis designer, umpire and player Ted Tinling. From the 1940s to 1980s Tinling was the foremost designer of ladies’ tennis attire, creating custom-made outfits that represented each player’s personality and style. He later remarked in his book, 60 Years in Tennis, how in 1947 he started to rebel against the regimental and tailored looks made popular throughout the war years by encouraging players to wear more decorative and feminine outfits. In the black and white photograph, Mrs Warwick is being fitted for one of these outfits by Ted Tinling. Tinling’s designs were popular with many players throughout the years including Gussy Moran, Ann Jones and Martina Navratilova.

An example of one of his earlier feminine creations was a white dress with added colour for the British player Joy Gannon in 1947. The dress was decorated with a pink pastel border around the hem. This caused quite a stir at Wimbledon as it signalled a breakaway from the traditional predominately white ruling. This rule was never formally written down until 1962 and limited the amount of colour worn on court to headwear, cardigans or sweaters.  These subtle additions of colour added to each player’s individuality and have paved the way for tennis fashion today.

Since the strides taken by Tinling at the end of the 1940s, tennis fashion has evolved from custom-made outfits by innovative designers to sponsorship deals and player branded fashion lines. But what about fashion prior to Tinling’s involvement? At the beginning of The Championships tennis wear was more about everyday fashion and decorum rather than outfits that allowed for both comfort and movement.

Bearing this in mind, how much do you think the standard outfit for a female tennis player weighed in the 1880s? Could you play gracefully in a corset and several layers without perspiring? Find out in next month’s instalment.

In the meantime, back to the Cataloguing!

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