4 Black Female Athletes Whose Style Was Considered ‘Too Much’

Photo: Tim Clayton/Corbis/Getty Images.
On Friday, French Tennis Federation chief Bernard Giudicelli announced a dress code for the 2019 French Open; in it, he noted that the black Nike catsuit Serena Williams wore to last year’s tennis tournament would now be inappropriate. “I think that sometimes we've gone too far,” Giudicelli said in an interview with Tennis magazine, singling out Williams' look. “It will no longer be accepted. One must respect the game and the place.” Moving forward, Giudicelli is calling for a dress code where players will wear mostly white — not off white or cream, he clarified.
Williams, who has won the French Open three times, spoke out about her catsuit in May, and its powers of protection “I've always wanted to be a superhero, and it's kind of my way of being a superhero. I've had a lot of problems with my blood clots, God I don't know how many I've had in the past 12 months,” she said. “I've been wearing pants in general a lot when I play so I can keep the blood circulation going.”
But Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.’s mom isn’t letting the ruling get her down. “I've since found other methods [for encouraging blood circulation], and when it comes to fashion you don't want to be a repeat offender,” Williams told reporters during a press conference for the U.S. Open. “It will be awhile before this has to come up again.”
While we may not hear about the catsuit again, this is just another instance where Williams, like many other Black female athletes, were made to feel they were doing too much. Like the controversies surrounding Williams' hair when it was beaded, she follows in the footsteps of women like Florence Griffith Joyner — a.k.a. Flo Jo — who brought as much glamour to track and field as she did speed, and Gail Devers, whose long nails were practically unheard of for the sport. That's why, ahead, we're celebrating a few Black women who didn't just break records, but did it in style.
1 of 4
Photo: Focus on Sport/Getty Images.
Florence Griffith Joyner was not only considered the fastest woman in the world in 1988, but also the most fashionable. She regularly ran (and won) races wearing asymmetrical one-leg tracksuits she designed herself, sported a long manicure compete with nail art, and let her hair hang loose around her face. Before her untimely death in 1998, she designed the uniforms for the Indiana Pacers.
2 of 4
Photo: Jonathan Fickies/Getty Images.
Figure skater Debi Thomas was the 1986 World champion, but when she competed in the 1988 Winter Olympics in a black, beaded unitard, the International Skating Union put a temporary ban on costumes without skirts. It’s since been lifted.
3 of 4
Photo: Robert B. Stanton/Getty Images.
Gail Devers liked to keep her nails so long she had to alter her starting pose when racing. Throughout her career, Devers was known for highly-decorated manicures that stemmed from a challenge from her father gave her as a child to stop biting her nails. Here, there was no contest between fashion and function.
4 of 4
Photo: Lutz Bongarts/Bongarts/Getty Images.
Catherine Freeman, the first Aboriginal athlete to become a gold medalist, stole the stage at the 2000 Sydney Olympics in a white catsuit. Though the mystery of where the outfit went may never be solved, it did inspire an outfit designed for Denmark's first astronaut Andreas Mogensen.

More from Fashion


R29 Original Series

Watch Now
Extraordinary, one-of-a-kind individuals
Watch Now
A look at the subcultures around the world that colour what we wear — and why.
Watch Now
The craziest trends, most unique treatments, and strangest subcultures in the beauty world.
Watch Now
Explore the world's most vibrant cultural and culinary centres—in 60 seconds, of course.