The Major Muses on Lawn-tennis Costume: 1881

I have been playing at lawn tennis with a young lady (writes Major Walter Wingfield, the inventor of that splendid game—to whom the thanks of the community at large are decidedly due) and I have vanquished her. She is younger and quicker than I am, and lawn tennis requires these qualifications, not great strength or vast endurance; so a woman can play as well as a man—this one did. How then, did I win? Listen, and I will tell you a secret. I won the game simply because I was dressed for lawn tennis, and she was not. Now why should this be? When she goes out riding she puts on a riding habit. When she goes to bathe she puts on a bathing dress. Why, therefore, when she plays lawn tennis does she not put on a lawn tennis costume?

Thus I mused; and then, as I leaned back in my easy-chair, I think what sort of dress she might wear, and a vision of a fair form, clad in a tunic of white flannel, with a roll collar, a kerchief of cherry silk tied round her throat, the loose ends showing from under the white collar, a skirt of eighteen inches long, a cherry-coloured band round her waist, and a pair of continuations of white flannel (such as men wear, only looser) floats through my brain. It seems a sensible dress and a modest dress, that should shock no one. Yet I know women are critical about each other’s dress. What will they say to such a startling innovation as this?  I am nervous even about making the suggestion, and hopeless about it ever being carried out.

Be that as it may, still if any club will start such a uniform, the lady members will reap the greatest comfort and benefit, and compete with all others on the most advantageous terms.

After such a dress I have hardly patience to name others, but a Norfolk jacket, with a kilt reaching half-way down to between the knee and the ankle, and with a Tam-o’-Shanter cap on the head, would not be bad; neither would a vivandiere’s dress, or a Turkish costume, with pyjamas, and a top skirt down to the knees, be unsuitable. A jersey is a comfortable garment, but I don’t know how to finish it off below. Will Lady Harberton turn her attention to this matter? She will never have a better chance of introducing her divided skirt than as a lawn tennis dress.

At this moment I am roused from my reveries by the butler, who himself does me the honour to valet me, bringing in my bath and my dress clothes. I ask him to wait a moment whilst I roll up all the clothes I have been playing in—a set of flannels, lawn tennis shoes, socks, cap, and my belt strapped round—and desire him to kindly take them down to the weighing machine in the hall, and weigh them. In a few minutes he returned with the weight written down on a piece of paper. I at once scribbled a note to my late opponent:

“Dear Miss C.—I have beaten you most unfairly. The clothes I was playing in only weigh five pounds and a quarter. What do yours weigh? Will you kindly let your maid weigh them—everything you had on—and let me know?

“Yours, W. W.”

The butler begins to think I am not quite sane, but off he goes with the letter, and, when I come down to dinner, I am informed that it has been most conscientiously done, and that it weighs ten pounds and three-quarters. I saw the bundle, it was a big one; but of course I was not allowed to investigate its sacred contents. The dress was a tweed tailor’s-made costume.

It follows that my thirteen stone of flesh, bone, and muscle has only to carry five pounds and a quarter, while her nine stone is hampered with ten pounds and three-quarters.

If to-morrow she were to play the best man in this house, dressed as I have suggested, and if he were handicapped by having a railway rug strapped round his waist, tied in at his knees, and pinned up coquettishly behind, I should be prepared to lay any wager that she would win.

The Theatre, A monthly review and magazine Vol. 1 1 August 1881: pp 117-19

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It seems to Mrs Daffodil that the Major is entirely too fascinated by day-dreams of  fair forms flitting about the grassy courts in white-and-cherry. His note to the young lady—”everything you had on—borders on the impertinent, tipping possibly into the risque, especially when he is not allowed to investigate the “sacred contents.” Mrs Daffodil feels as though he needs to be chastised in the manner of an over-inquisitive hound: “Down, Sir! Down, I say!”

But it was ever thus. From “beach censors” measuring bathing-costume skirts to the committee of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, who accused American tennis player “Gussie” Moran of bringing “vulgarity and sin into tennis” for her lace-edged under-knickers, the gentlemen always seem to have an opinion about sports costume for ladies.

Still, we must give Major Walter Clopton Wingfield some credit for “insider knowledge.” He was, after all, the founder of the modern game of lawn tennis and the author of two books on the subject.  Here we see that gentleman pictured in his own, rather dashing tennis costume, weighing somewhere in the neighbourhood of five pounds and a quarter.

Walter Clopton Wingfield inventor of lawn tennis

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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