At this year’s French Open Serena Williams, in her first Slam after giving birth to daughter Alexis Olympia last September, wore an incredible black spandex catsuit that was equal parts stylish and inspiring and that she said made her feel like a “superhero.” At the time, she said of her outfit choice,
“All the moms out there that had a tough pregnancy and have to come back and try to be fierce, in a middle of everything. That’s what this represents. You can’t beat a cat suit, right?”
Williams has worn catsuits before and will again, it’s as close to a signature outfit as you get with someone who has also gone with leopard print, neon dresses, and twirly princess-inspired skirts. This choice of catsuit was particularly inspiring due to the long road Williams had back from childbirth, which included various complications at the hospital and a slower return to the court than she had hoped. She partially chose this particular outfit because it limits the risk of blood clots, which she’s had scary experiences with many times now throughout her life and career.
So, naturally, the most uptight of all the Slams looked at that outfit and the explanation behind it and went “we should ban this and call the best tennis player of all time out while we do it.”
In an interview for Tennis Magazine’s 500th interview, French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli announced the Open will be introducing a new, more restrictive dress code moving forward. He explained this decision by saying ‘’I think that sometimes we’ve gone too far” and “[the catsuit] will no longer be accepted. One must respect the game and the place.’’
Now, this is some offensive hooey. Clear as day. The French Open won’t be going as far as the all-white guidelines at Wimbledon, they say, but will be banning catsuits and placing other guidelines on players. Besides the point that Williams chose the outfit partially for medical reasons and then after a match explained that she did it for other mothers going through what she went through, it’s a pointless change that does nothing but make the tournament look closed-minded and ignorant.
“One must respect the game and the place” is a particularly coded line, as “respecting the game” is as clear an indicator that the Open’s reasoning isn’t just about the outfit but who was wearing it, and that the restrictions being put in place are not entirely about the clothes. It’s a line you’ve also heard in relation to black football players kneeling during the anthem and black or Latino baseball players’ celebrations on the diamond.
If Giudicelli wanted everyone to know the actual impetus behind this announcement, he succeeded.
Beyond his coded explanation and the fact that he even felt the need to call Serena out in the first place (entirely unnecessary) this is also a completely stupid idea. That should also be noted. Wimbledon’s all-white dress code aside, under which players still manage to be creative and stylish, Slams are when many players get to show off custom outfits with eye-catching colors and patterns that allow them to express their personalities and entertain fans.
Giudicelli can try to look me in the eye and tell me Williams’ catsuit didn’t increase fan interest or engagement in her matches at Roland Garros, but I doubt he would succeed. This is a ridiculous rule that’s rooted in racism, existing biases against Williams as a player, and apparently a strong dislike of fun.
If they’re smart, they’ll reverse it. If that doesn’t happen (as will probably be the case) I look forward to watching Williams step on to the court next spring in an outfit that manages to fall within the new guidelines while also remaining completely badass and beautiful.