Tennis-inspired fashion, from pleated skirts to retro tube socks, seems to be everywhere these days. The trend likely has something to do with the huge surge of interest in the sport during quarantine. Tennis is a perfectly suited pastime for a pandemic, after all: You’re outside and physically separated from your opponent. So if you’re one of the many new players who picked up a racket and new pair of tennis shoes recently (or just want to look like one), you might be wondering what you should be wearing — especially now, when you might be heading out to brunch or drinks afterward and want to look good, too.
As with any other sport or workout, you’re going to want your gear to be moisture-wicking, breathable, and easy to move around in, but tennis attire also has its own functional and sartorial standards. Ivan Krcelic, a former professional player who is currently the head director at Tennis Prime in Fort Lee, New Jersey, explains that “tennis was the sport of kings and queens,” so there’s more of an emphasis on style and formality on the court than you’d expect at the gym. Of course, most tennis clubs have relaxed their rules since the days when you could only wear white — whites symbolized the sport’s roots as a leisure pursuit of the upper class (who could afford all that dry-cleaning) — but the sport has maintained some of its stylish legacy. As Chris Olberding, president of Gitman Vintage and an avid tennis player, says, “fashion has always been inexorably linked to tennis.” From Stan Smith’s crisp polo shirts and white sneakers to Serena Williams’s one-leg catsuit, clothing has long been a way for tennis players to show off their personality.
Even if a Grand Slam isn’t in your future, you still have plenty of options for nice-looking tennis gear. To round up some of the best pieces from both heritage brands and exciting startups, we asked six players and coaches to share their favorites.
Best men’s tennis clothes
Nike was one of the top-recommended brands among our experts. When it comes to blending performance and style, Krcelic says Nike’s tennis styles are leading the way. He’s tough on his clothes, as he plays practically every day, and says that Nike pieces have lasted longer than any other brands he’s tried over the years. Plus, he likes how the brand is always a step ahead in setting trends with style and color. “I love to play with color palettes, and Nike has it all,” he says, pointing to bright and “powerful” hues in the brand’s collection. Walter Giacometti, director of Tiger Tennis Academy, agrees that Nike’s polyester-blend fabrics are great for wicking away sweat, and tennis pro Lendale Johnson also tells us he wears Nike.
Olberding says Lacoste has always been a go-to for him, as its pieces are classic looking but also incorporate high-tech fabrics that make them ideal for performance. The brand is best known for their polo shirts (embroidered with a crocodile, the nickname of its founder and tennis player René Lacoste), and Olberding particularly likes the raglan-style polos with a seam that goes around the shoulder instead of right on top. “It gives you a little bit more mobility in your shoulder when you’re playing, which makes a big difference,” he says. He says Lacoste’s basic tennis shorts “couldn’t be more simple, clean, and streamlined,” and he’s had pairs that lasted for years. Krcelic is also a fan of Lacoste’s “very French style” and says “the fit is perfect.”
The Italian brand Ellesse is another favorite of Johnson’s. He says their Cala shorts and Vanetti top are stylish and comfortable for playing in. The brand’s been around for decades and is easily recognizable by its logo, an abstract half tennis ball.
Best women’s tennis clothes
Like several of our other experts, Racquet magazine founder Caitlin Thompson embraces the aesthetic aspects of tennis. “If you feel like you look good, you will play well,” she says. She’s especially excited about startup brands that are putting as much focus into how their gear looks as they are on how it performs on the court. She says the British brand Jupp Sport offers “amazingly cute, fitted tennis whites.” Although most courts no longer require players to wear white, Thompson likes this nod to the sport’s tradition. Along with Jupp’s tennis dress, she says she “constantly” wears the Maverick shirt and Maui skirt. “The top has a three-quarter-length sleeve that comes down right above the elbow, which is very flattering on most women’s arms, and both pieces have built-in spandex material to keep you dry,” she says. “They allow you to look buttoned-up in a way that’s not stuffy, and they look great on all silhouettes.”
Johnson appreciates the thought that goes into Venus Williams’s line, EleVen. “With her being a professional athlete in the sport, she knows exactly what women’s tennis clothes need to feel and be like,” he says. The collection includes high-performance dresses and separates inspired by the star’s on-court looks.
Tennis skirts and dresses might feel more classic, but plenty of women prefer to play in shorts. Stephanie Downes, associate director of audience growth at the Strategist, played tennis competitively for decades and likes these two-in-one shorts that have pockets for storing spare balls. “I would never consider playing in shorts or a skirt without shorts underneath since that’s the best place to shove tennis balls,” she says. “Shorts with a short inseam won’t have pockets that keep balls as secured, and compression shorts alone would be too tight for tennis ball storage.”
“I really like what Nike is doing with the Naomi Osaka collection,” says Thompson. “They’ve really given a lot of thought to pushing the boundaries and making clothes that are certainly meant to be played in but also have functionality and appeal off the court.” For something a little edgier, she likes these cargo-style utility shorts. Downes seconds the recommendation: “I would wear anything Naomi Osaka wears.”