Wimbledon 2016

Tennis: Nike's new outfit just doesn't do it for some female players

Lucie Safarova sporting the shapeless Nike-issued dress at the All England Club. Her outfit wasn't enough to get in the way of her first-round win over Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
Lucie Safarova sporting the shapeless Nike-issued dress at the All England Club. Her outfit wasn't enough to get in the way of her first-round win over Bethanie Mattek-Sands. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

LONDON • For the female tennis players wearing Nike at Wimbledon, one style did not fit all.

Instead of the typical outfits Nike offers most players who are paid to wear its apparel, the company issued a loosely hanging, short dress.

It was white, in accordance with Wimbledon's dress code. But it was not exactly ideal for competitive tennis, according to several players.

"When I was serving, it was coming up, and I felt like the dress was just everywhere," Rebecca Peterson said.

The Swede played with a long-sleeved shirt over her dress to hold the dress somewhat in place.

Britain's Katie Boulter improvised by tying a headband around her waist to serve as a belt, which held the fabric somewhat more in place. Czech Lucie Hradecka wore leggings underneath the dress, effectively turning it into a shirt.

This was not what Nike had in mind. In a news release distributed before the tournament, the company touted the dress: "NikeCourt female team athletes will compete in the one-piece NikeCourt Premier Slam Dress, which represents a departure from the skirt-top combinations worn in previous Grand Slams."

The release said: "Despite the traditional aesthetic, the dress features modern design elements such as power pleats and racerback construction, which work in tandem to enable the athlete's movement."

But once put to the test during qualifying last week, the dress quickly proved problematic. It was largely shapeless, with long fabric hanging freely in the front and back.

It most resembled the "babydoll" style, developed in 1942 by the New York designer Sylvia Pedlar to cope with wartime fabric shortages - and is more commonly associated with lingerie and sleepwear than athletic performance.

Before qualifying had ended, The Daily Mail reported that Nike had sent its players a message marked "VERY important" asking players to bring their dresses in for "a small change to your dresses per Wimbledon rules".

While the dresses were not lengthened, the slits on each side were sewn up by a Nike tailor, making the light fabric of the dress somewhat steadier and less prone to flying up as far during play.

Nike disputed the directive being characterised as a recall.

"The product has not been recalled and we often customise products and make alterations for athletes as they compete," a Nike spokesman said.

Some players, though, raved about the dress. Maria Sakkari wore it unaltered for her first two qualifying matches and has since worn it with the additional tailoring in two wins. She said it was one of her favorite tennis outfits.

"I think it's a very pretty dress, and I think that it's very feminine," the Greek said. "It's very comfortable."

One Nike-sponsored player not affected by the dress design was Serena Williams. Nike provides unique outfits for her.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2016, with the headline 'Nike's new outfit just doesn't do it for some female players'. Print Edition | Subscribe