Apparel: Trends That Make Tenniswear Tick
From high fashion, to toned-down neon, to greater use of tech fabrics, to better stretch and mobility — and more — the trends continue to take apparel from on court to off.
We all know it: Women care about how they look when playing tennis — and about how those outfits can cross over to other activities off the court.
Gone is the utilitarian look of single-sport-oriented clothing, as looks from the fashion runway have filtered down to tennis and activewear, using color, style and fabrication in unprecedented ways for tennis court, gym, going out with friends afterward, then picking up the kids and running errands.
Tennis clothing manufacturers realize this, as do fashion brands that are looking to the sport for direction and inspiration themselves, and are capitalizing on form and function with new looks, pleated skirts, polos and tennis warm-ups in many collections, says Fila designer Francine Candiotti. Textures, bright, bold colors and new cuts are the order of the day.
The activewear category in the U.S. is big business — as of last fall, it clocked in at around $35 billion, according to market research firm NPD Group, and it is still growing,.
To catch the eye of tennis consumers, apparel manufacturers are catching a number of new trends.
Remember the bright neon of just a few years ago? Now, you’ll still see bright colors, but without the neon. Technical fabrics have become the norm, not the exception, as players want ventilation, moisture-wicking, and more from their clothing. Stretch and mobility are key features, especially with poly-lycra blends. With some manufacturers, there’s a revival of white in tennis outfits, as the sport continues to pursue a high fashion-tennis correlation. Also, lace is in. And the tennis dress? Some apparel companies are saying women are now more apt to wear two, or three, pieces rather than one.
Toning Down the Neon
Having gone through four seasons of neon colors, Bolle apparel designer Carlos Perez sees consumers doing neon “with less acid, becoming more muted with less saturation of color,” pointing to Serena Williams’ yellow outfit in the Australian Open. Colors are toned down, but still have the same vibrancy because people still want to stand out.
He sees a continuing trend toward brighter shades, but without the neon element. And while fashion color leaders such as Pantone may go with more blue-red, Perez will introduce yellow into the mix because, he says, “It goes better with ladies’ skin tones.” Pink is still hot, but Perez says he tries to make it fresh every season.
Since color plays such an important role, Fila also looks to Pantone and fashion trend authority WGSN. Notable colors, says Candiotti, are “clean whites and organic brights, like warm blues and fire tones.”
Adidas has a team that ensures color palettes go with fashion trends and follow a certain “logic throughout the year,” says Product Manager Reinhard Ebler. Adidas also highlights the court colors of the different Grand Slams, since each Grand Slam and season “has a ‘mood’ that can be translated through color.” Neon colors don’t play a dominant role as main color, and since the company and consumers are more environmentally aware, Ebler adds, that attitude is reflected in color selection.
Since Bolle does well with stripes, Perez tries to incorporate them in different ways — one way is using overlays of lace, since that’s a hot trend right now. Combining bright colors in the mix just adds to its appeal.
Perez also sees a revival of white in fashion outfits. By bringing retro, classy elements like mother of pearl buttons and satin trim, white becomes a sought-after fashion statement. He also thinks women can do more with tops and bottoms than with dresses, so the trend is to wear two or three pieces, which allows more flexibility mixing jackets and vests.
Men, says Candiotti, not only gravitate toward comfortable fabrics, but also to style. “Men are especially drawn to vibrant colors, and the trend now is fitted shorts and tops, with bold, bright designs.”
For Fila, women’s collections focus on skirts, shorts and racer-back tanks. New fabrications and trim — creating lighter, more comfortable pieces, Candiotti notes — are appealing not only to players but to fans, who seek to incorporate those looks into their clothing arsenal.
Fila’s athletes provide valuable feedback about what works and what’s comfortable, enabling Candiotti to develop better designs each season. “It’s important that each collection have its own identity,” and Candiotti likes to design lines that tell different stories, but remain true to Fila’s brand philosophy.
Perez says he sees wearers demanding more stretch and mobility and tries to bring that concept forward at Bolle by using a popular poly-lycra blend for functionality and performance. He calls poly-lycra “bullet-proof, in that it never dies,” and says Bolle is using a new woven poly-lycra fabric that has amazing stretch. “Its light weight lends itself to more feminine design lines, incorporating pleats and swirls,” he adds.
No longer are “technical” fabrics an aberration, but rather a mainstay of tenniswear. Adidas’ polyester blends in knits and wovens, and its ventilated mesh-like Climachill fabric, are consistent elements in its lines, says Ebler. “Fabric newness is a very important reason to buy products” where textures and feel are important, he adds. “How you feel in your shirt affects your performance and confidence on the court.”
Even with the crossover of fitness and sports-specific clothing, Ebler sees tenniswear as creations specific to tennis where movements lend themselves to particular fabric combinations, articulated fits, and cuts and styles.
Ebler also sees a strong correlation between the fashion runway and tennis, with trends being showcased to a wide audience. This high fashion-tennis correlation is highlighted by Adidas’ Y-3 collection, produced by Japanese designer Yamamoto, one of the first designers to cross the line between high fashion and sportswear. Last year’s and this year’s French Open outfits highlight this collaboration. Popular flower prints became an iconic element of that Adidas look, as well as a fashion statement.
Adidas depends on its customers and athletes to let them know what works and what doesn’t. “Analyzing likes and dislikes helps us shape future [designs] and enables us to come out with a stronger direction,” Ebler says.
It’s important to know your customers and “give them what’s in style and what they demand,” adds Bolle’s Perez. “When you merge both, you give them the perfect outfit.”
See all articles by Cynthia Sherman
About the Author
Cynthia Sherman is a contributing editor for Tennis Industry magazine.
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