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How Serena Williams’ Catsuit Controversy Sparks Criticism Of Tennis Dress Codes

Last week, French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli drew ire for singling out tennis champion Serena Williams’ black catsuit as an example for implementing stricter dress codes at the French Open. “I think sometimes we’ve gone too far.”, he said. “[The black catsuit] will no longer be accepted. One must respect the game and the place.” The statement has since ignited backlash from netizens and op-eds worldwide, specifically pointing at racism and misogyny for the “unnecessary” call out.



To rewind a little, we recall the day Serena debuted the famous catsuit at the French Open in May, which is a straightforward black bodysuit with no serious embellishments whatsoever. But apart from its cool factor, viewers reveled in its likeness to the superhero suit in the Black Panther movie.

Serena’s decision to wear the catsuit was sincere, and not deliberate in violating any codes whatsoever. “I feel like a warrior wearing it, a queen from Wakanda maybe.”, she says. “I’m always living in a fantasy world. I always wanted to be a superhero, and it’s kind of my way of being a superhero.” She also revealed that the catsuit was meant to help her avoid blood clots, which threatened her life and pregnancy early in February, thus dedicating the look to recovering mothers. 



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With such a memorable victory and symbolic gesture (and course, the fact that it pertains to one of the greatest tennis champions today, as well a female African-American icon), it is understandably irksome to have the whole occasion undermined by something as trivial as a dress code. Bernard Giudicelli on his part didn’t delve much into detail as to how or why Serena’s catsuit “disrespected” the time and the place of the sport.

It is also worth noting, however, that Serena’s catsuit wasn’t the only bodysuit to have caused a ruckus in tennis history. In 1985, tennis player Anne White wore a white bodysuit with white legwarmers to the Wimbledon match; and despite her outfit complying the Wimbledon all-white dress code, she was advised to wear something else for succeeding matches.

Dress codes at tennis games are not unique to the French Open; in fact, the oldest tennis championship in the world, the Wimbledon, is known to have the most restrictive dress guide imposed on both players and attending spectators. But when it comes to its female tennis players, the dress codes take on a certain irony; while traditional tennis outfits are meant to give athletes adequate movement with physical “decency”, the standard of women’s tennis gear usually involve mini-skirts as bottoms, exposing much of the athletes’ legs. Whereas, Serena’s figure-hugging catsuit, despite covering majority of her skin, is deemed inappropriate.


 READ: Is All-White All Right?: The Reason Why Wimbledon Players Wear White


The catsuit ban controversy has spurred such heated debate, that even legendary tennis player and activist Billie Jean King voiced her defense of Serena’s outfit. On Twitter, she remarks, “The policing of women’s bodies must end.”



Additionally, even Nike has voiced their support of Serena:


Yet, while the whole world debates the matter of the catsuit ban, Serena herself has maintained her composure, shrugging off the whole incident. After all, she has greater battles to win: the US Open begins this week, and she’s out to make a local comeback after missing the 2017 US Open to give birth to her daughter.

“When it comes to fashion, you don’t want to be a repeat offender.”, says Serena in a statement last Saturday. "I think that obviously the Grand Slams have a right to do what they want to do. I feel like if and when, or if they know that some things are for health reasons, then there's no way that they wouldn't be OK with it. So I think it's fine."


Lead photos from @serenawilliams