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The University of Southampton

Lace-lined racquets and crimson coats: fusion of tennis and fashion is nothing new

Published: 4 July 2012

From Serena Williams’ neon purple hot-pants, to Czech player Radek Stepanek’s red and blue shoes, and Andy Murray’s tennis-ball-dropping shorts – fashion has again been causing a stir at Wimbledon.

However, if you think Roger Federer’s iconic ‘RF’ crest means his place is secured as tennis royalty, think again. Research from the University of Southampton has shown ‘real tennis’ royalty was flirting with fashion centuries ago.

Professor of History, Maria Hayward, has discovered two Stuart Kings, Charles I and Charles II, were both keen tennis players and had bespoke, luxurious outfits made for them. She came across this fashion gem while studying accounting records for the Great Wardrobe and the Wardrobe of the Robes – both departments of the Royal household responsible for buying fabric for the King’s clothes and furnishings.

Professor Hayward comments, “No serious study has been made of the clothing of Charles I and Charles II and it was during my work to complete this that I uncovered references to their specially designed, elegant tennis outfits.”

Charles I wore a doublet (close fitting jacket) with open-seams on the front of the sleeves and possibly also in the centre of the back of the garment. He wore hose or breeches on his lower half. The outfit was made of satin, damask and ‘silver stuff’ – a fabric with metal thread woven into it. It was coloured in fashionable primrose, rose and crimson.

Charles II wore either a coat, or waistcoat, with breeches, but his outfit was made of Holland – a plain weave, linen fabric which was coloured cream.

Professor Hayward says, “Both Kings’ suits were heavily decorated with braid and lace and it is likely they removed the doublet or coat, playing in their linen shirts, worn underneath. The outfits were made from high-quality materials, but were relatively inexpensive compared to their usual clothes. They also wore specially made tennis shoes and socks.

“The pièce de résistance was their racquet frames, bordered with luxurious lace – a sight, which however much players might push the boundaries, is unlikely to be seen gracing racquets at this year’s Wimbledon.”

The two 17th century monarchs would have played ‘real tennis’ rather than today’s ‘lawn tennis’, usually on an indoor court with walls on all sides which the ball could bounce off. Courts of this sort can still be seen today in places such as Hampton Court and Queen’s Club. Real Tennis evolved from a 12th century ballgame and became popular in the 15th century. In 1596, there were 250 courts in Paris alone.

Notes for editors

In 2004, Professor Maria Hayward found details in archives of what could be the first ever specific reference to football boots. The pair, costing four shillings, were mentioned in an inventory of Henry VIII's clothes when he died. In the list of 17,000 pieces of clothing and possessions owned by the King, Maria found that the royal cordwainer had made shoes for playing football.

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