Manchester Art Gallery

dress

Object description

Bodice and skirt of cotton, woven with narrow stripes of light blue, dark blue and pink and narrower stripes of red, yellow, blue and white; boned bodice features high, round neck with short standing collar and double lace frill, fastening centre front with hook and eye and twelve mother-of-pearl buttons; watch pocket stitched to inside left front panel, concealed under right side front; long sleeves with double lace frill at cuffs; waistband fastens centre front, with buttons each side of left side seam to attach to skirt. Separate skirt with waistband fastening centre back, two buttonholes at left to fasten to bodice; extra piece of fabric caught at sides to fall over front hips as pleated apron; five 20cm long gathered self fabric frills, each trimmed with 3 tucks, covering skirt from beneath apron to hem; ball pocket applied at right side under top frill below apron; extra piece of fabric covers back opening and creates fullness at back and fixes to waistband (fastening missing), held in place by four pairs of tapes at side, back seams tying centre back inside and three semicircular bones passing through tape loops at sides and centre and held by tape. Similar to the type of outfit worn by early female tennis players.

Display label

Although men have played a game similar to modern tennis since Tudor times, women were not able not join them until the 1870s, when the game became fashionable in England after the patenting of the modern tennis court by Major Wingfield (1873). At first, female players made little accommodation in their dress, wearing fashionable outfits, often with tightly swathed, ankle length skirts and trimmed hats or bannets. Usually, as here with this 1880s costume, a bright easily-washable cotton was preferred although thin woollen jersey was also used. Aprons emblazoned with appropriate emblems could be worn to hold a supply of tennis balls, ready for serving. Tennis was an important innovation, allowing women to engage in strenuous sport in an entirely socially acceptable manner, as the Field wrote in 1885: "Lawn Tennis has taught women how much they are capable of doing and it is a sign of the times that various games and sports which would have been tabooed a few years ago as "unladylike" are actually encouraged at various girls' schools".