Dissertation Discussion: Daisy

What is the working title of your dissertation?

‘A Class of Football … Well Worth Watching’: Women’s Football Clothing, 1915-1921

What led you to choose this subject?

I’ve always been a huge sports fan, although growing up in Devon I would choose to watch rugby over football every time! But I started playing football with a team in London a year and a half ago and absolutely fell in love with playing the sport. My Dad and I have discussed women’s sport a lot since I started playing as I feel this is a real moment in history for women in sport; many individuals and teams are finally getting recognition for their talents while there is funding coming in at a grassroots level that just wasn’t there previously. My Dad mentioned a documentary he’d watched on women’s football during World War One; how popular it was, gathering crowds of up to 53,000, and how it was subsequently banned in 1921. Unbelievably, the ban wasn’t lifted until 1971. As someone who has benefited so much from playing sport, I found the idea of so many women being banned from playing football really shocking and sad. I also feel that so many people don’t understand this important moment in the history of women’s sport and why, in consequence, women’s football is significantly underdeveloped compared to the men’s game. I was already planning on focusing my dissertation on the period of the 1910s, because I think it is such a sudden period of change from the old Victorian values to the modernity of the 1920s, so to focus on women’s football in this period seemed an absolutely perfect topic!

Favourite book/article you’ve read for your dissertation so far and why?

A match report of a women’s football match in Preston from 1918. The journalist seems so enthused by the sport and so in support of the female players, it’s really heart-warming. My favourite quote is: ‘The attendance at Deepdale on Saturday shows there is distinctly a public for Ladies Football in Preston and … the girls play a class of football that … make[s] the game well worth watching’.

Favourite image/object in your dissertation and why?

An image of the Yorkshire Ladies and Dick Kerr Ladies in front of the large crowds at Deepdale stadium.

Yorkshire Ladies and Dick Kerr’s Ladies, 1921, postcard, Alice Kell Collection, National Football Museum Archives, Preston (Photo: National Football Museum).

Favourite place to work?

I’ve really enjoyed working in the Library Study Room at Vernon Square; it’s got big mullion windows which let in the sun and frame the view of the trees next to the building. I also love working in the Periodicals Room at Senate House Library which has comfy Chesterfield sofas where you can curl up with your laptop. Although sometimes it’s slightly too comfortable to be conducive to work …

Sporting Style: Tennis Outfits in the Early-Twentieth Century

Tennis has always had strong associations with fashion. This link is most clearly demonstrated, argues Phyliss Tortura, in the Jean Paul Gaultier Autumn 2010 show in which the runway was made to look like a tennis court and much of the collection was inspired by sportswear. I recently visited the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Archive, which has a large collection of vintage postcards featuring famous tennis stars of the past. These postcards show the numerous and changing styles of female sporting dress that have adorned the tennis court.

Jean Paul Gaultier Runway Show, Autumn 2010

Jean Paul Gaultier Runway Show, Autumn 2010

The modern game of Lawn Tennis first emerged in the 1870s and female players in these early years usually wore their ordinary clothes, often a smart ‘tea dress’, in order to play. This would have included a corset, a skirt with a bustle and various other trimmings. While the decorations were pared down over the years to the classic Wimbledon white, corsets remained a regular feature in women’s tennis outfits. Right up until the late 1910s female tennis players engaged in this vigorous and strenuous sport whilst wearing this boned and laced garment which would restrict both their breathing and their freedom of movement.

Mrs McNaire, ca. 1910s

Mrs Satterthwaite, ca. 1910s

It took the glamorous and daring Suzanne Lenglen to challenge this norm, and she was met by great shock and outrage when she took her place on court at the 1919 Wimbledon tournament wearing no corset. She also made a radical change to the length of skirts for women in tennis, with the skirt of her 1919 outfit stopping at her calves. This modification soon caught on, with hemlines gradually rising across the following decades, giving female players a greater capacity for movement in the game. Lenglen’s signature headscarf also caught on, adding a sense of glamour and chic to the sport.

Suzanne Lenglen, ca. 1920s

Senorita De Alvarez, ca. 1920s

Many players accessorised their outfits, and spectators at the interwar Wimbledon tournaments would have seen everything from geometric cardigans to fur coats. Other modifications in women’s tennis dress were gradually made over this period, eventually coming to value practicality over the Victorian demands of modesty. Stockings were worn under tennis dresses until 1932, when they were finally discarded.

Miss G. Sterry, ca. 1920s

Mrs Satterthwaite, ca. 1930s

Women’s tennis dress changed dramatically in the early twentieth century, creating a more practical and comfortable costume, suitable for the sporting prowess of the players. However, a touch of glamour and style still didn’t go amiss.

Tennis Photos Courtesy of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Archive

References

Phyliss G. Tortura, Dress Fashion & Technology: From Pre-History to the Present (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015).

Ted Tinling, The Story of Women’s Tennis Fashion (Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, 1977)

Valerie Warren, Tennis Fashions: Over 125 Years of Costume Change (Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, 1993).