Best Dressed

Ten Times Serena Williams ‘Served’ us the Best Court-side Looks

Serena Williams playing tennis
Hannah Sutton

Serena Williams has been a key player in sporting history since she first entered the professional leagues of tennis in 1995. This is not solely due to her astonishing twenty-three grand slam titles or her astounding four Olympic Gold Medals, but her unapologetic feminism and ferocious style on the court. Williams signed with Nike back in 2003 with whom she created some of the most inspiring and powerful outfits in tennis history.

The former number one also has her own independent and inclusive clothing line, S By Serena, inspired by her favourite motto ‘Be Seen Be Heard’ which aims to support women enduring domestic violence and gender inequality.

The Black Catsuit – French Open 2018

‘you can take the superhero out of her costume, but you can never take away her superpowers’

Williams has never been shy in expressing her unique style on the court, often causing conflict with the historical roots of tennis and the rules it possesses over correct sporting attire. In 2018, Williams entered the French Open court in an all-black full-length bodysuit, with a red accent around the waist. Bernard Giudicelli, the French Tennis Federation president commented that Serena’s action will “no longer be accepted”, which led Nike to share an image of Williams’ outfit alongside the tagline ‘you can take the superhero out of her costume, but you can never take away her superpowers’. After the backlash, Williams commented on the medical benefits of the suit, as the athlete is prone to blood clots (she suffers with pulmonary embolisms). Serena also became a mother only months prior to returning to the court.

 
 
 
 Mother, Champion, Queen, Goddess – French Open 2019

Virgil Abloh was the creator behind this fashion-forward ensemble. The collaboration between Nike and Off-White was a hit with fans, praising Williams for ignoring the strict and historic rules of tennis attire. The monochrome four-piece ensemble featured flowing eye-catching prints and the French words for ‘mother’, ‘champion’, ‘queen’ and ‘goddess’ – which some fans believed to be targeted at the French Tennis Federation due to the controversy of her catsuit the previous year.

The Pink Suit Jacket – Australian Open 2014

This bright pink ensemble worn during the 2014 tennis competition had Serena literally ‘suiting’ up for her match against Ana Ivanovic. As a self-confessed ‘girly-girl’, Williams donned the Barbie pink attire, whilst still suffering  a back injury – which resulted in her loss against Ivanovic for the first time in five matches.

Lauderdale, whilst continuing with her demanding tennis training schedule,

The Green ‘Serena-Tard’, Australian Open 2019

Another Nike outfit, this time in an emerald green romper-style, the non-conforming player turned heads in this one-piece which she helped design. Williams studied Fashion for three years at The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, whilst continuing with her demanding tennis training schedule, and often helps Nike or other collaborators with her future court outfits – breaking the stereotypes for fashion on and off the court.

The Ballerina – US Open 2018

Serena loves to show her more feminine side, despite being criticised for her apparently un-feminine muscular figure – a fact I could not disagree with more. The tennis triumph highlighted her astonishingly beautiful figure in this black ballerina-inspired tutu, with asymmetric sleeve contrasted with her white Nike court-shoes. Williams herself said the outfit was ‘fun […] easy to play in [and] aerodynamic with the one arm free’ highlighting how they aren’t just a statement in ancient fashion codes, but a statement in tennis gear.

The Pastel Dress – US Open 2020

2020 was the year of pastel tones; beiges, browns and nudes – and Serena did not let this trend slip through her grasp. Serena stunned the crowd in a simple nude Nike dress in September against the 15th seed, Sakkari. The flowy skirt and tank top style collective matched colour schemes with the athlete’s scrunchie, hinting at her attention to detail when she is designing.

 

The black zip-up Nike dress at first glance seems relatively average for Serena, until you (noticeably) glance at the luminous accented waistband and coordinating double set of wristbands

The Sisterhood Seed Battle – Top Seed Open 2020

In a high contested match against her sister Venus, Serena wore a rather law-abiding outfit for the Women’s Tennis Association event, the first match occurring since the coronavirus pandemic outbreak in March. The black zip-up Nike dress at first glance seems relatively average for Serena, until you (noticeably) glance at the luminous accented waistband and coordinating double set of wristbands – which just happen to share the colour-scheme of the tennis balls. Even when Williams dresses to expectation – there is still a sense of her fire and passion that stands out.

The Polka-patterned print – Australian Open 2020

Although this did end in a VERY shocking defeat for Serena, it seems a shame to leave such an iconic ensemble out of her array of recent courtside looks. The layered skirt and short combo allowed the tennis superstar to move freely in the Australian heat, whilst the halter-neck straps gave way to accents of gold jewellery which complimented the flurried polka-dot pattern. Again, Williams paired the look with a matching scrunchie – a seemingly signature look these days.

The 80s Arm-Warmers – US Open 2016

The details make this ensemble into a truly iconic Williams look.

Williams can pull off any outfit, this is a known fact. With controversy already surrounding her use of leggings and cat-suits on the pitch, she incorporates 1980s inspired hot pink arm warmers into her look in 2016. However, the tennis superstar did still abide to the strict dress code of professional matches with her elegant, high neck tennis skirt…but with a twist. Alongside Nike, Serena incorporated bright pink highlights into her outfit, from the pink accents on her shoes, the pleats in her skirt and the matching scrunchie. The details make this ensemble into a truly iconic Williams look.

The Catsuit Pt.2: Power, History, Feminism – Australian Open 2021

One of Serena Williams’ most iconic outfits to date, her one-legged asymmetric catsuit at the most recent Australian Open. Williams has been criticised by the French Tennis Federation before for not-abiding to the strict literal ‘dress’ code that female tennis players need to restrict themselves to. Similarly, Florence Griffith Joyner, a three-time Olympic Champion sprinter, often did not conform to the dress-code set for running and field athletes by international panels. She became an international figure in the late 1980s due to this individual and record-breaking style (these were not the only records she broke, setting a new World Record for the 100m in 1988). As a Black athlete during the American Black History Month (February), Williams celebrates her history and the history of other Black female athletes through this outfit, and her own self-expression.

 

To summarise, Serena Williams is a Queen. Serena is breaking down gender norms with every step on the court, and even when she is not displaying her power through sport, she still supports and tries to modernise the society we are living in. For example, after the first catsuit worn by Williams (French Open 2018) the Women’s Tennis Association released a new rule regarding women’s clothing for tennis matches, allowing leggings and compression shorts to be worn for tennis matches, without the previous necessary inclusion of a dress or skirt over the top. This is a landmark decision, finally modernising the archaic rules of tennis attire for women, a necessary move towards a more ‘progressive’ world for female athletes. Serena Williams continues to set a statement on the court each match, making her name in the legends as not only an unmistakeably talented individual, but also for breaking the boundaries in women’s sport fashion.

Hannah Sutton


Featured image courtesy of  Gabrielle Ludlow via Flickr No changes made to this image. Image licence found here

In-article images courtesy of @serenawilliams ,@australianopen, @usopen,and @top_seed_open via Instagram. No changes made to these images.

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