If you thought Serena Williams was going to let the catsuit controversy of last year’s French Open cramp her style this year, you thought wrong.
Williams walked on the court Monday for her match against Vitalia Diatchenko (which Williams won) in a Virgil Abloh-designed Nike outfit. The look, by Abloh’s Off-White label, consisted of a black and white pattern of text on a series of pieces. According to Footwear News, the words “Mother, Champion, Queen, Goddess” are printed all over the floor-length high-slit tiered skirt, fitted top, and jacket in French. The version of the skirt the three-time French Open champion actually played in was much shorter.
Williams’ all black catsuit from last year — which served a medical purpose, BTW — was seen as inappropriate and disrespectful by the French Tennis Federation, leading them to change the dress code, specifically singling out Williams’ look. The federation’s chief, Bernard Giudicelli, called for a dress code where players will wear mostly white — with no wiggle room for off-white or cream.
While every look Williams rocks on the court should be seen as her expressing her personal style (it’s called fashion, people — look it up!) or just the best choice for performance, what she, a Black woman, plays to wear tennis, a very white sport, always means much more than that.
Black female athletes and women across sports have all been ridiculed for their outfits, hair, and nail choices throughout the years in the way men and many white female athletes are not. They are over-sexualized and over-criticized for their style choices when it really should be just about the game. So when Williams hits the court in a mostly black outfit, by a Black designer for a brand called Off-White, like the color Giudicelli has deemed unacceptable, it is her graceful way of flipping off the system trying to keep one of the greatest athletes of our time down.