Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Fashioning Lawn Tennis abstract

Fashioning Lawn Tennis is the working title of my paper for the Design History Society conference September 2012 at the University of Brighton http://www.designhistorysociety.org/events/annual_conference/index.html

Using a material culture approach I will be looking at tennis dress worn by players who competed professionally, starting with the first Wimbledon champion and going up to the start of the 1920s when tennis dress radically changed.
1938 advert for Slazenger portrays the idea that lawn tennis was used as a way for fashionable Edwardian ladies to meet eligible men!

In complete contrast - a young Suzanne Lenglen in 1914. 

Keywords - Lawn Tennis, Competition, Fashion, Representation, Class


Wimbledon doubles champion Elizabeth Ryan once recalled an unsettling memory from the changing rooms. She spoke of blood-stained corsets drying over a clothes rail by an open fire. This image is at odds with the fashionable aesthetic of female tennis players of the period - elegantly attired in mid-Edwardian fashions, including long skirts worn with high necked, long sleeved blouses and decorative hats.

An object focused investigation reveals what is often hidden or disguised externally, or as Daniel Miller writes, material culture is concerned with not ignoring ‘the invisible and unremarked upon.’ Ryan’s memory of the corsets suggests a fiercely competitive game played to the limits of a player’s ability and not the genteel knockabout which photographs of the period may infer.

Tennis dress steadily developed and evolved to accommodate the increasing physical demands of the game, although always within the boundaries of fashionable dress. By using surviving objects, photographs and other printed materials I aim to challenge accepted representations of lawn tennis, which place an emphasis on fashionable styles of dress, courtship, etiquette and displays of femininity. This representation has been repeated so often, it has become invisible and unquestioned. I aim to show that from the outset there were a privileged group of affluent middle-class women, who regularly competed in tournaments and who played a strenuous and athletic game.

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