Why do tennis players wear skirts?

The tennis skirt is having a moment. "Tennis skirts are all the rage right now," Vogue magazine observed recently of women wearing them both off and on the court. The truth is, the tennis skirt has never gone out of fashion on the court. 

How do you explain the continued popularity of the tennis skirt, which has been all the rage for more than a century? It was in 1919 that Frenchwoman Suzanne Lenglen was called "indecent" by the British press for wearing one at Wimbledon that flashed her lower calves.

While a tennis skirt has lost its ability to shock in the intervening years, it hasn't lost its appeal. Look at the WTA Tour today and you will see just how many women compete in the skirt. And what’s true at the elite level is also true in the amateur game: the skirt is very much still the queen.

It's worth noting that the professional tennis players wearing skirts in 2022 are doing so out of choice. There's nothing in the tennis rulebook compelling women to wear skirts at the Grand Slams or on the WTA Tour. They could choose to wear shorts or leggings on court, but they are instead opting to compete in a skirt, a piece of clothing that connects them with tennis' heritage, but which can also be decidedly modern.

Unique to tennis 

Tennis isn't the only major sport in which female athletes still wear skirts. Figure skating is another. The difference is that style points are awarded on the ice and not on clay, grass or hard courts. What makes tennis unique is that it’s the only major sport in which athletes are choosing to wear skirts.

Comfort and performance

Tennis is an athletic sport, with comfort and performance paramount for professional athletes, who will choose to wear whatever helps them to perform at their best. That's also the case for amateurs of all levels, from beginners to players competing in tournaments. Wearing a skirt, you're comfortable and able to move freely and quickly in any direction to reach the ball.

In years past, skirts would have been more restrictive and harder to run about in. But modern, stretchy, lightweight materials mean that skirts now allow you to move as freely as if you were wearing shorts or leggings (and some might even go so far as to suggest even more freely).

Style and femininity 

Along with comfort and performance, a skirt offers style and femininity that a pair of shorts perhaps never could. A skirt can look classic, elegant, preppy or fresh and modern. With a wide range of colors and designs, women will find the skirt that suits them and helps them to feel good on the court. That’s also a performance point as when you feel good you’re more likely to play with confidence.

In a skirt, you get to do two things at once - you're upping your style game while also enhancing your actual tennis game. And, as Vogue has documented, the tennis skirt looks just as good off the court as it does on it. You can wear a tennis skirt for a match or practice session and keep it on as you go about the rest of your day.

The history of the tennis skirt 

In tennis' early years, ladies used to wear full-length dresses and even corsets - women sometimes struggled to move or breathe in outfits that, by modern standards, were completely unsuited for sport. But Lenglen, a fashion icon as well as a champion tennis planet, demonstrated how you play better tennis when you’re free and agile. That was the first instance of a leading female tennis player thinking primarily about performance and breaking free from what society expected women to wear in public, even when playing competitive sport.

The evolution of the tennis skirt 

Tennis skirts have got shorter over the decades. That has been dictated by wider social and fashion trends, and what women are wearing away from the court, and also because a shorter skirt is easier to move in. Innovative materials and technologies have also helped to make skirts more comfortable.

Skirts are lighter, stretchy and more breathable, and are made with moisture-wicking technologies that help to keep you comfortable on hot days and in intense matches.

HEAD for example uses its own MXM Technology (Moisture Transfer Microfibre). MXM moves sweat to the surface of the garment where it quickly removed. This also provides a cooling effect on hot summer days. The addition of a tennis ball pocket also meant women didn't have to hold a spare during a rally.

The future of the tennis skirt 

It looks as though the tennis skirt will continue to be all the rage for years to come. It’s likely that the development of ever more innovative materials and technologies will ensure skirts become even more comfortable while allowing you to move freely. No doubt, fashion will also shape the future of the tennis skirt, with trends for colors, designs and trends.

More than a century old, the skirt is very much part of tennis’ future.