What Rules Banned Serena Williams' Outfit From The French Open?

What Rules Banned Serena Williams Outfit From The French Open

Serena Williams is one of the greatest tennis players of all time. In 2018, a controversy over her outfit at the French Open launched a debate over the rules that major tennis tournaments place on in-game attire. Read on to learn about these rules and how they were rewritten as a result of this controversy.

Tennis Dress Codes

Tennis Dress Codes

Major tennis tournaments, such as Wimbledon and the French Open, have strict dress codes for both male and female players. This often includes minimal showing of people’s bare skin below the bicep or above the knee and an avoidance of form-fitting clothing. In general, women’s dress codes are more elaborate than men’s dress codes in tennis, but they can vary tournament to tournament.

For example, Wimbledon has a set of ten rules detailing exactly what colors and styles players can wear if they are to perform at the historic venue. Their attire must be almost entirely white, and neither off-white nor cream is acceptable. This includes their caps, shorts, skirts, tracksuit bottoms, the back of a shirt, dress, tracksuit top, or sweater, and of course, their shoes.

Wimbledon even goes as far as to say that medical supports and equipment should be white if possible, and even undergarments must be white if they will be at all visible. This is popularly the most strict set of rules at any tennis venue, but Roland Garros also has high standards.

2018 Controversy

At the French Open in 2018, Serena decided to wear a specially-designed black and red skin-tight outfit for one of her matches. One of her reasons for doing so was because it helped with circulation, which was medically important for her as she had experienced difficulties with blood clots the previous year after giving birth to her daughter. 

In the eyes of the French Open, Serena’s catsuit outfit was disrespectful to the game and the venue. French Open President Bernard Giudicelli announced a stricter dress code for future French Open tournaments after witnessing Serena’s match, an addition to the club’s rules that would ban full-body skin-tight outfits in the future and force all competitive outfits to be preapproved.

Results of the Serena Williams Controversy

In 2019, Serena returned to the court in Paris, and this time she wore an ensemble designed by Virgil Abloh, founder of luxury streetwear brand Off-White, for Nike. She made sure to meet the standards of the tournament and continued to play well. 

For the 2019 season onward, the WTA decided to modernize its dress code by allowing leggings and mid-thigh length compression shorts to be worn without a skirt or dress during matches. While this attire had never been explicitly prohibited, they changed the code’s wording to make sure that the dress code was explicitly inclusive. They wanted to stay current with trends in fashion and performance wear while also making sure that players would never feel restricted. This change was in large part inspired by Serena’s leadership.