Clothing is not only an item to keep you warm or cool, it also indicates status, shows pride and even relieves fears.
For tennis legend Billie Jean King, clothing allows female tennis players to express their individuality through colors and prints — a right she and the embryonic Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) fought for in the 1970s, when white was ubiquitous as the color of sports.
Wimbledon still maintains this strict all-white dress code – first implemented to camouflage sweat stains. today it also helps the SW19 grand slam maintain a sense of uniqueness in relation to the Australian Open, the French Open and the US Open, but arguably also curtails the individuality of the players.
More urgently, for players who are menstruating, it causes the fear of having blood visible on white clothing.
“My generation, we were always worried because we were always dressed in white,” King told DailyExpertNews’s Amanda Davies. “And it’s what you wear underneath that is important for your period.
“And we always check whether we’re showing. It makes you tense because the first thing we are are entertainers and you want everything you wear to look flawless, look great. We are entertainers. We bring it to the people.”
At Wimbledon this year, campaigners called on tournament organizers to relax the strict dress code, and gathered at SW19 with signs reading ‘About bloody time’ and ‘Address the dress code’.
It followed the comments of several women, including 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 “skipping periods” as a result.
Manufacturers are starting to develop solutions even as the Wimbledon dress code persists, with Adidas telling BBC Sport it had perpetuated its women’s training products periodically.
“You feel like you can breathe and not have to check everything every minute when you sit down and change sides,” King adds, referring to wearing dark clothes underneath.
“So at least it’s been brought to the forefront, which I think is important to discuss.”
In addition to the all-white policy that worries players during their periods, King points out that it can be difficult for fans to differentiate between players on the field.
“There is nothing worse in sports than when you turn on the television and two players wear the same uniform or outfits. It’s terrible. Nobody knows who is who.
“This is one of my annoyances, I’ve been yelling for years. Have you ever seen a sport where people on each side wear the same outfit?”
DailyExpertNews has asked Wimbledon for comment, but had not received an answer at the time of publication.
The fading taboo surrounding menstruation is testament to the progress women’s sports have made in recent years, a battle King has led for 50 years.
Two years ago, the Federation Cup – the flagship of the international women’s tennis competition in which players compete as part of their national teams – changed its name to the Billie Jean Cup King in her honor, and now the tennis great uses clothing to represent the champions in the celebrate this year’s event with a ‘winner’s jacket’ designed by renowned fashion designer Tory Burch.
Based on the tradition of the famous ‘Green Jacket’ that the winner of The Masters golf tournament dons every year, Burch designed a blue jacket for the winners of the Billie Jean King Cup in the hope that it will eventually become as iconic as his predecessor .
Every stitch, every seam and every inch of fabric is steeped in symbolism.
The color, “Billie Blue,” was chosen “because King has worn blue many times during her amazing career,” explains Burch.
Most famously, King walked out on the court to play Bobby Riggs in the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes,” dressed in a blue and menthol green dress, buttoned up at the front and adorned with rhinestone details.
Her shoes were also blue, deliberately chosen to match her dress, stood out on the still new color television and undermined gender stereotypes.
“The shoes and the color, everything is very important to me,” says King. “I always try to have meaning in what I wear.”
Since that groundbreaking moment when King Riggs defeated 6-4 6-3 6-3 in front of an estimated global television audience of 90 million, gender equality inside and outside the sport has progressed, albeit faltering at times, taking a few steps backwards or sideways.
That same year, the US Open became the first of the grand slams to offer equal prize money to men and women, while the US Supreme Court granted women the right to abortion in Roe vs. Wade, although this decision was overturned in June.
“Every generation they go further and further away from the start of the fight,” King says. “I think history is so important because the more you know about history, the more you know about yourself.”
King hopes that the current generation of female 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] is that it helps you shape the future and that’s what I want these young women to do. Their job now is to empower, lead and shape the future.”
And on the inside of the jacket, to remind the Billie Jean King Cup champions of the “fight” and their place in it, is a message from King himself.
“Congratulations on winning the Billie Jean King Cup 2022,” King reads. “As a member of the first winning team at the Federation Cup 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 the sport. Together we can make equality a reality. Billie Jean King, be bold.”