Serena Williams stopped the show at the French Open when she debuted in a black catsuit with a red belt. She was truly a stunning figure, and people likened her to a superhero (she certainly is a super mom and super sportsman). But her big fashion moment diminished when French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli banned the suit before it could ever be a thing.
His reasons say a lot without saying: “I think we sometimes went too far,” he said. “The combination of Serena this year, for example, it will no longer be accepted. You have to respect the game and the place.”
Therein lies the challenge of maintaining respect for the rules of decorum for an ancient and elite game. Let’s face it–we black folks like our flash and bling. No doubt Serena has earned the position as one of the greatest players the sport has ever seen. But one this will always be bigger and more important–tennis itself.
The game of tennis originated in France using hands to hit the ball instead of rackets. Over time, it became a refined sport of the wealthy aristocracy. The aristocracy was obliged to follow the rules of etiquette dictated by kings and queens. These standardized rules of dress and behavior were then used to distinguish them from “the commoners.”
A cornerstone of dress code etiquette rules is in place to allow others to feel comfortable. I can see how Serena’s catsuit could get some folks hot and bothered! While both women and men push around the boundaries of what is acceptable in the dress in upper-class circles, the challenge is straddling the line between daring and garish. Go too far over the line of what the majority feels comfortable, and you’ll get pushback.
Think about it this way: say you got invited for tennis doubles at a country club. The club website is clear about what the dress code rules are and warns guests that non-compliance may lead to them being asked to leave. You show up in the same catsuit Serena wore. What do you think the reception will be like for you? As savvy black women, we have to understand the rules–sometimes ancient, centuries-old rules–so that we can maneuver successfully within them.
The spirit of rebelliousness, in general, doesn’t translate well in mixed company. At the risk of sounding cliche, you have to know the rules of the game in order to win the game.
Coincidentally, we discuss these issues in our best-selling Pink Pill course.
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