Clothes aren’t just items to keep you warm or cool, they also signal status, show defiance, and even ease anxieties.
For tennis legend Billie Jean King, clothing allows female tennis players to express their individuality through color and pattern, a right she and the fledgling Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) fought for in the 1970s, when white was ubiquitous as the sport’s color.
Wimbledon still uses this rigid all-white dress code, first implemented to camouflage sweat stains. these days it also helps the SW19 Grand Slam maintain a sense of a unique relationship with the Australian Open, the French Open and the US Open, but it may also reduce the individuality of the players
More urgently, for menstruating players it creates anxieties about whether blood is visible on white clothing.
“My generation, we always worried that we were dressed in white all the time,” King tells CNN’s Amanda Davies. “And it’s what you wear underneath that’s important for your period.
“And we’re always checking to see if we show up. You have it because the first thing we are are entertainers and you want what you wear to look flawless, to look great. We’re entertainers. We bring it to the people.”
At Wimbledon this year, campaigners called on tournament organizers to relax their strict dress code, gathering at SW19 with signs reading “About bloody time” and “Address the dress code”.
It followed comments from several women, including the former Olympic champion Monica Puig and Australian tennis player Daria Saville, who spoke of the “mental stress” caused by the all-white dress code and the resulting “jump periods”.
Manufacturers are starting to develop solutions, although the Wimbledon dress code remains in place, with Adidas telling BBC Sport it had tested its women’s training products.
“You feel like you can breathe and you don’t have to check everything every minute when you sit down and switch sides,” adds King, referring to wearing dark clothing underneath.
“So at least it’s been brought to the fore, which I think is important to discuss.”
In addition to the whiteout policy creating anxieties for players during their period, King notes that it can be difficult for fans trying to tell the difference between players on the court.
“Nothing is worse in sports than when you turn on the TV and two players are wearing the same uniform or the same clothes. It’s horrible. Nobody knows who is who.
“This is one of my pet peeves, I’ve been yelling for years. Have you ever seen a sport where people wear the same outfit on each side?”
CNN has reached out to Wimbledon for comment but had not heard back at the time of publication.
The fading taboo around menstruation is a testament to the progress women’s sport has made in recent years, a fight King has led for 50 years.
Two years ago, the Federation Cup – the flagship international women’s tennis competition in which players compete as part of their national teams – changed its name to the Billie Jean Cup King to honor her, and now the big tennis uses clothing to highlight champions. of this year’s event with a ‘winning jacket’ designed by renowned fashion designer Tory Burch.
Building on the tradition of the famous “Green Jacket” worn by the winner of The Masters golf tournament each year, Burch designed a blue jacket for Billie Jean King Cup winners in hopes that it would become as iconic as the his predecessor .
Every stitch, every seam and every inch of fabric is imbued with symbolism.
Its color, “Billie Blue,” was chosen “because many times throughout his incredible career, King has worn blue,” explains Burch.
Most famously, King took to the court to play Bobby Riggs in 1973’s “Battle of the Sexes” in a mint blue and green suit, buttoned up the front and adorned with rhinestone detailing.
Her shoes were also blue, deliberately chosen to match her dress, standing out from the still-new color television and subverting gender stereotypes.
“The shoes and the color, it’s all very important to me,” says King. “I always try to make sense of what I wear.”
Since that pivotal moment when King defeated Riggs 6-4 6-3 6-3 in front of an estimated global television audience of 90 million, gender equality in and out of sport has progressed, still than sometimes haltingly, stumbling backwards or sideways a few steps.
That same year, the US Open became the first of the Grand Slams to offer equal prizes to men and women, while the US Supreme Court granted women the right to an abortion in Roe vs. Wade, although that decision was overturned in June.
“Each generation gets further and further away from the beginnings of the struggle,” says King. “I think history is so important because the more you know about history, the more you know about yourself.”
King hopes the current generation of women’s tennis stars, those who will wear her specially designed jacket as winners of the Billie Jean King Cup, will take over.
“But the most important of [history] it’s that it helps you shape the future and that’s what I want these young women to do. Now it’s their job to step up, lead and shape the future.”
And inside the jacket, to remind Billie Jean King Cup champions of the “fight” and their place in it, is a message from King herself.
“Congratulations on winning the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup,” King reads aloud. “As a member of the first Federation Cup winning team in 1963, I dreamed of sharing this title with women like you.
“Tory Burch shares my passion for tennis and women’s empowerment. We designed the Champion’s Billie Blue Jacket to symbolize your incredible victory and how far women have come in sports. Together, we can make equality a reality. Billie Jean King, Be Bold.