Clothes aren’t just items to keep you warm or cool – they also indicate status, show challenge, and even relieve anxieties.
For tennis legend Billie Jean King, clothing allows female tennis players to express their individuality through color and print – a right she and the embryo of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) have fought for in the 1970s when white was ubiquitous as the color of sport.
Wimbledon still uses this rigid all-white dress code – first put in place to camouflage sweat stains. Today, it also helps the SW19 Grand Slam retain a sense of uniqueness from the Australian Open, French Open and US Open, but it also limits player individuality .
More pressing, for menstruating players, it creates concerns about whether blood is visible on white clothing.
“My generation, we always worried because we wore white all the time,” King told CNN’s Amanda Davies. “And it’s what you wear underneath that’s important for your period.
“And we always check if we show. You get uptight about it because the first thing we are is artists and you want everything you wear to be flawless, to look great. We are artists. We bring it to people.
At Wimbledon this year, campaigners called on tournament organizers to relax its strict dress code, gathering at SW19 with signs reading “About Bloody Time” and “Address the dress code”.
It followed comments made by several women including the former Olympic champion Monique 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 beginning to develop solutions, although the Wimbledon dress code remains, with Adidas telling BBC Sport it has proven its women’s training products.
“You feel like you can breathe and don’t have to check everything every minute when you sit down and switch sides,” King adds, referring to wearing dark clothes underneath.
“So at least that was brought to the fore, which I think is important to have a discussion.”
Along with the all-white policy creating anxieties for players during their spell, King points out that it can be difficult for fans trying to distinguish between players on the pitch.
“Nothing is worse in sport than when you turn on the television and two players are wearing the same uniform or the same outfits. It’s horrible. Nobody knows which is which.
“He’s one of my pet peeves, I’ve been screaming for years. Have you ever seen a sport where people wear the same outfit on each side? »
CNN asked Wimbledon for comment but, at press time, had not received a response.
The disappearance of the taboo surrounding menstruation testifies to the progress made by women’s sport in recent years, a fight that King has fought for 50 years.
Two years ago, the Federation Cup – the flagship international competition in women’s tennis in which players compete as part of their national teams – changed its name to Billie Jean Cup King to honor her, and now the great female tennis player uses clothing to showcase female champions. of this year’s event with a “winner’s jacket” designed by renowned fashion designer Tory Burch.
Inspired by the tradition of the famous “green jacket” worn by the winner of The Masters golf tournament each year, Burch designed a blue jacket for the winners of the Billie Jean King Cup in hopes that it will eventually become as iconic as its predecessor. .
Every stitch, every seam and every inch of fabric is imbued with symbolism.
His color, “Billie Blue,” was chosen “because King has worn blue many times throughout his incredible career,” Burch explains.
Most famously, King stepped onto the court to play Bobby Riggs in 1973’s “Battle of the Sexes” wearing a blue and mint green dress, buttoned down the front and embellished with rhinestone detailing.
Her shoes were also blue, deliberately chosen to match her dress, stand out on yet-unreleased color TV, and subvert 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 pivotal moment when King beat Riggs 6-4 6-3 6-3 in front of an estimated global TV audience of 90 million, gender equality inside and outside of sport has progressed, well only sometimes hesitantly, stumbling backwards or sideways a few steps.
That same year, the US Open became the first of the Grand Slam tournaments to offer equal prize money to men and women, while the US Supreme Court granted women the right to an abortion in Roe against Wade, although that decision was overturned in June.
“Every generation they get further and further away from the early days of combat,” King says. “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 female tennis stars, those who wear her specially designed jacket as Billie Jean King Cup winners, will pick up the slack.
“But the most important thing about [history] does that help you shape the future and that’s what I want these young women to do. It is their job now to step up, direct and shape the future.
And inside the jacket, to remind the 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 team to win the Federation Cup in 1963, I dreamed of sharing this title with women like you.
“Tory Burch shares my passion for tennis and female empowerment. We designed the Blue Billie Champion Jacket to symbolize your incredible victory and how far women in sport have come. Together we can make equality a reality. Billie Jean King, be bold.