From Naked Arms to Nude Knickers: A Tale of Women and Tennis

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Serena Williams competing in style at the U.S. Open.

The tennis court is a battlefield, especially at the big pro tournaments, where players compete both athletically and on the fashion front. Monica Puig may have lost last week in the first round of the U.S. Open but to Woody Schneider, owner of NYC Racquet Sports in Manhattan, she won on style points. "Puig wore a shorter cut dress, mostly white, with a little bit of red and blue trim," he said. "She looked unbelievably classy."

So it has gone for women tennis players since French champ Suzanne Lenglen sported colorful headbands and cut the sleeves off her blouses in the 1920s, much to the dismay of the many moralists of the day, who found her style unladylike.

Then cameĀ Gussie Moran at Wimbledon in 1949.

Spectators gawked and photographers scrambled when she galloped across the hallowed grass courts on tanned California legs set off by a short skirt and lace-trimmed "panties," which today would be called boy shorts. Though she was ranked as high as fourth in the world in the late 1940s, Moran was known from then on by the nickname the British tabloids gave her: "Gorgeous Gussie." Years later, she told an interviewer that she regretted being the first to bring the sexy to women's tennis because it became all that she was known for.

Fast forward to the present, when corporations like Adidas and Nike sign up pros to wear their branded outfits on big stages like the U.S. Open. The practice lead to yet another scandal at Wimbledon in 2014, when Nike fitted its women players in a loose and flimsy dress that flew up during play, exposing an uncomfortable portion of skin.

Serena Williams, for one, refused to wear the so-called "naughty Nike." Instead she wore an elegant dress of her own design, something she and her sister Venus have done often throughout their careers. (Venus even has her own line of women's sporting apparel.)

That's a bit of the colorful history of women and tennis and how they've collided repeatedly with ideas about femininity and decorum, strength and sex. Click the player for insights from Thessaly La Force, a style writer, and Caitlin Thompson, publisher of the magazine "Racquet."