With 23 Grand Slam titles and recognition as world number one by the Women’s Tennis Association, Serena Williams is now part of history.
Williams didn’t just make history in sports with her agility and skills. She opened doors for women of color in sports. She started her own organization to support small businesses with leadership led by marginalized groups.
As if it wasn’t enough, Williams broke systemic barriers in fashion through her strong presence in sports. She celebrated her authentic self and her evolution as a tennis player and as a human being through her clothes. Let’s talk about some of the most political fashion moments of the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) tennis player, and why Serena Williams’s outfits are political fashion that will prevail in history.
Medical Clothes that Offended Organizers
"I feel like a warrior in it, a warrior princess ... from Wakanda, maybe. I've always wanted to be a superhero, and it's kind of my way of being a superhero.” —Serena Williams talking about the black catsuit.
After giving birth to her daughter, Olympia, Serena Williams faced a critical challenge with blood clots for many years. Constant doctor visits and a large hematoma were some of the consequences of this health problem that perpetually scared the tennis player.
So when Williams was in the course of her eighth Wimbledon title in Europe, in the middle of the hot season with hot temperatures, people started to question why she was wearing a long black catsuit, to the point of accusing her of desperately trying to be fashion forward. The truth is, the catsuit had full compression designed to prevent blood clots. Due to this medical condition, Nike created several outfits for the player, including some looks that featured arm sleeves, but this catsuit got everyone’s attention.
The garment material allowed the tennis player to have enough compression to confront the challenge she was facing successfully. The catsuit was controversial, and the tournament organizers banned it, claiming it didn’t follow the event’s dress code. There were multiple narratives about this controversy. Many of them started conversations about how certain dress codes can be interpreted as sexist and how these must evolve to be inclusive to people’s needs while still following certain rules that are respectful to the time and occasion where one must follow these codes. During a match news conference, Serena Williams said she loves the black catsuit, not only because of its medical purpose, but because it makes her feel like a warrior… “from Wakanda, maybe”.
Fashion Designer and Tennis Player become close friends.
After the catsuit controversy and still, with a strong relationship with Nike, Serena Williams expressed a strong desire to collaborate with fashion designer Virgil Abloh. Abloh was a successful designer who led his own brand Off-White, created iconic fashion moments for Louis Vuitton, making men’s luxury goods attractive to young consumers, and developed a recognizable style with Nike.
Serena wanted Abloh to design clothes for her, and Nike thought it would be a great match, so they made this merge happen.
The partnership between Virgil Abloh and Serena Williams had several fashion highlights that led to a meaningful friendship between them. One of the most memorable moments from this partnership, is this iconic tutu outfit that the tennis player wore in her first match at the US Open in August 2018. She wore a black and a light purple version of this asymmetrical tutu outfit. In recent interviews, Williams has admitted this is one of her favorite outfits from her entire career.
After so many years of career and so many tournaments, it may seem as if it is challenging to keep the clothes interesting. The clothes of a tennis player have certain limitations. They may be visually attractive, but they need to allow for a lot of movement. The fabrics mostly come from synthetic fibers such as polyester since they need to be lightweight, breathable, and durable. Still, Serena Williams’s outfits are always true to who she is and what she stands for, becoming an inspiration for many black women starting their careers in sports.
Serena Williams at the Met Gala
The Met Gala is one of the most important events in fashion. Many political fashion moments, fashion statements, controversies, reveals, and memes come from this important event run by editor-in-chief Anna Wintour with the support of the curator of the Costume Institute, Andrew Bolton. Every year, there is a theme at the Met Gala and the chair selects co-chairs who become relevant figures in the planning and execution of this event. In 2019. The theme of the gala was Camp: Notes on Fashion. Inspired by an essay written by Susan Sontag in 1964, camp is an intentional over-the-top-ness that is attractive because of its irony, exaggeration, and sense of humor.
For this theme, the co-chairs of the event were Lady Gaga, very well known for her fashion statements, Harry Styles, who has helped to blurry the barriers between womenswear and menswear, Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele, who has refreshed the Italian house’s aesthetic with young muses and a contemporary fashion, and last but not least, Serena Williams, whose political fashion statements in the tennis court have celebrated and empowered her curvy silhouette without diverting the attention to her outstanding performances as a tennis player.
This was an important milestone for Serena Williams as a fashion icon, which she accepted with a neon yellow dress with hot pink leaves designed by Versace, and paired with matching neon yellow Nike shoes by Off-White. Although Williams received a lot of negative comments about “disrespecting dress codes” and being “widely inappropriate” in an event as important as the Met Gala, the tennis player explained that Anna Wintour herself suggested that she should wear Nike shoes. After all, this type of footwear represents her personality and career, which is where she has created these memorable fashion moments. Additionally, Williams is almost six feet tall, so she didn’t feel she needed the height of a high heel for this event.
This is how fashion trends are made and what fashion designers look for when creating their next collections. This fashion moment is one of the factors why the dress codes for red carpets have been seriously questioned in recent years and why does feet pain in women has to be directily associated with glamour and elegance.
King Richard Premiere
When a movie is made about you and your family, you become the center of attention. The story of life becomes a trending topic, a whole conversation, and a series of events to attend to. So when the time came for King Richard to premiere in Hollywood, we knew that an important fashion moment for Serena Williams was about to come. The Warner Bros movie is a celebration of Serena’s life and struggles as a child, but also about the huge efforts of her family as her parents fought hard to get her training and to be taken seriously in the challenging and often sexist world of sports.
To celebrate this huge moment in her life, Serena Williams showed up on the red carpet wearing a black jumpsuit by London-based fashion designer David Koma. Koma’s designs are very well known for contouring women’s bodies in empowering ways that make sculptural silhouettes. This is a huge fashion statement for Serena Williams, who has suffered body shaming from multiple outlets during most of her career. This jumpsuit celebrates the tennis player’s joy with an empowering silhouette that inspires many women who also suffer body shaming.
As if this Serena Williams outfit wasn’t enough, another big surprise that evening was that Williams’s daughter, Olympia, showed up on the red carpet with a matching black jumpsuit and a confident pose that made it to many Hollywood headlines.
A Historic Moment in Fashion
Each year, the September issue of fashion magazines is the most important one of the year because September is the most important month in fashion, with fashion weeks occurring in New York, Paris, Milan, and London.
In September 2022, Vogue celebrates the 130th anniversary of its magazine. So this particular edition is particularly special, marking a milestone for the magazine and a huge opportunity to show the readers how fashion has evolved ever since their previous anniversaries.
This historic Vogue cover features Serena Williams, with the exclusive announcement of her retirement. Williams opens up about how she has never liked the word “retirement” and likes to think about it as evolution instead. Williams is evolving away from tennis, and this was the main story in a historical issue of Vogue Magazine.
Serena Williams appearing on the cover of this magazine is a significant moment in fashion. In the last 30 years, there have only been two other covers featuring a woman of color in a September issue (Beyonce in 2015 and 2018). This covers talks about fashion inclusion for races, body shapes, careers, ages, and backgrounds.
In 2022, many fashion readers want to look at magazines that include bodies that look like theirs, not at skinny aspirational bodies altered with Photoshop, makeup, and lighting. It is true that there have been many women in the entertainment industry who have opened doors to fashion inclusion for curvy women. But it is Serena Williams’s achievement to be taken seriously as a fashion icon while being a successful tennis player who has made political fashion statements inside and outside the tennis court.
A couple of weeks after Serena Williams’s last match, the most viewed in ESPN history with an average of 4.2 million viewers, the former tennis player made a surprising public appearance. She didn’t wear tennis shoes, and she didn’t take her racket. Instead, she wore a Balenciaga-styled look with a pair of high heels and opened the Vogue World 2022 runway show walking as the Vogue’s September cover star she is!
Although we may not see Serena Williams on the tennis court again, we will keep hearing from her and her amazing effort toward inclusion and fairness. With her fashion line S by Serena, she seeks to empower people who are smart, sexy, strong, sophisticated, and stylish. The Yetunde Price Resource Center started by the Williams family, offers healing-centered and trauma-informed programs to the residents of Compton, California.
This is Serena Williams’s political fashion history, until now...
"I really think a champion is defined not by their wins but by how they can recover when they fall." -Serena Williams