See how women's fashion in sports has changed through the years
Playing baseball in corsets? Playing tennis in long dresses? Women's fashion in sports has come a long way over the past century. Here's how styles have changed for female athletes over the years.
In the 19th century, female baseball players wore long, corseted dresses and accessorized with caps. This team posed for a portrait circa 1870.
In 1903, these members of the Harlan County High School women’s basketball team in Oregon wore long dresses, thick tights and laced shoes.
Dresses were still the norm for athletic women in 1908, when British tennis player Charlotte Sterry played at Wimbledon. Sterry won the Wimbledon Ladies Singles title in 1895, 1896, 1898, 1901 and 1908.
By 1917, skirt lengths had begun to rise slightly. This English women’s soccer team wore skirts that hit just above the knee, paired with high boots and socks, ties and white caps.
Tennis outfits gradually became less constrictive for women. In 1932, French tennis player Suzanne Lenglen (who was one of the first major female sports stars) played in a sleeveless, belted dress without a corset in sight.
Female basketball players also originally wore skirts or dresses. These members of the New York University Women’s School basketball team in 1932 wore dresses layered over white, short-sleeved tops. Their shoes, meanwhile, look surprisingly modern.
In the 1930s, female swimmers tended to wear suits that were longer-cut at the bottom, as seen here on members of the Oxford University women’s swimming club in 1938.
No more skirts! In 1939, members of the Preston Ladies Football Club wore shorts and striped knee socks during a match against the Belgian Ladies International Team.
These women played for the Kenosha Comets, a professional women’s baseball team in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Here, pitcher Elise Harney refreshes her makeup between innings. Players for the All-American Girls league were expected to maintain a feminine appearance at all times. They even received beauty kits and were required to attend evening charm school classes, as depicted in the hit movie "A League of Their Own."
By the 1940s, women’s tennis outfits were inching closer to the uniforms we’d recognize today. American tennis legend Pauline Betz sported a short skirt as she played in the women’s singles final at Wimbledon while rocking glamorous ‘40s makeup and hair.
These members of a Spanish soccer team circa 1950 wore short, white shorts, long-sleeve shirts and the wavy, bob hairstyles that were popular at the time.
Female basketball players had also begun wearing more modern outfits by the late 1950s. The U.S. women’s team sported athletic shorts that allowed for easy movement as they lined up to play the U.S.S.R. at Madison Square Garden circa 1959.
Women’s baseball uniforms also made the transition from skirts to shorts or pants. This women’s team in Tokyo wore shorts, sneakers and baseball caps in this photo from around 1960.
By the late 1960s, female swimmers were wearing sleeker suits with more modern cuts. But, according to this photo from a freestyle relay race in the 1968 Olympics, they didn’t wear swimming caps.
These players wore shorts and T-shirts during a tournament between the Belgium and England teams in 1977.
By the 1980s, women’s basketball uniforms were looking more and more like the men’s. Cheryl Miller of the University of Southern California Trojans rocked shorts and a jersey tank top as she passed the ball during a game in the early ‘80s.
Tennis legend Billie Jean King made history when she crushed male player Bobby Riggs in their 1973 Battle of the Sexes match. And she did it wearing this rhinestone-studded outfit, which is now on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The outfit “felt absolutely perfect when I put it on,” King said of the flashy dress.
In the ‘90s, female tennis stars were rocking shorter uniforms that wouldn’t be out of place on the court today. Russian tennis pro Anna Kournikova wore this yellow tank-top dress in 1999 on the eve of the French Open.
Kim Song Chun sported shorts and a baseball cap as she threw a pitch during the Women’s Softball Competition in Doha, Qatar, in 2006.
Today, pro swimmers typically wear swimming caps, goggles, and sleek suits. Dutch swimmer Femke Heemskerk looked fierce as she prepared to compete win the FINA Swimming World Cup in 2018.
These days, female tennis players have a lot more options when it comes to their on-court style. However, there are some who still want to restrict what women can wear while playing, as Serena Williams found out when she rocked this catsuit at the 2018 French Open. Officials banned the style, much to the dismay of many pro players, including tennis legend Billie Jean King.
Nigerian soccer star Francisca Ordega rocked multicolored braids during a 2019 World Cup match. According to a recent New York Times article, she and other players are defending their right to present themselves in a feminine way with their hair and makeup while still being powerful athletes.
Dutch soccer star Shanice van de Sanden played a recent World Cup match with this amazing, animal-print hairstyle. She also loves wearing makeup on the field. “I will never play any game without my lipstick,” she told the New York Times. “It’s what makes me feel the most comfortable."
Sydney Wiese of the Los Angeles Sparks goes up for a shot while Natasha Cloud of the Washington Mystics blocks during a basketball game at Staples Center on June 18, 2019 in Los Angeles. Longer shorts and athletic sneakers are now typical for female athletes on the court.