Serena Williams’ powerful fashion, through the years

As one of the finest athletes in the world, Serena Williams has used her platform — and her wardrobe — to support women in a variety of ways. Courtesy Rob Keating / Wikimedia Commons

Serena Williams is both a fashion trailblazer and one of the greatest athletes of all time. She has a history of using fashion to support her activism, with her most recent statement coming in the semifinals of the 2021 Australian Open in February. While she has always pushed boundaries and broken glass ceilings with her supreme athletic ability and talent, Williams has used her platform to support women in a variety of ways.

She has invested significantly in women-owned businesses, spoken out about closing the pay gap for Black women and engaged heavily in charitable work through both her position as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador and the Serena Williams Foundation. Furthermore, she has cemented herself as an inspiration for athletes everywhere with her 73 career single titles, 23 doubles titles, two mixed doubles titles and four Olympic gold medals. The following list reviews the most memorable looks of Serena Williams.

Going all the way back to 2002, Williams won her second U.S. Open title while wearing a black Puma short bodysuit, paired with white and pink sneakers and a pink headband and wristband. She accessorized this look with a $29,000 Harry Winston bracelet. This was one of the first times Williams opted for a bolder outfit and it was heavily discussed in post-match press conferences. 

Williams stunned at the 2004 U.S. Open in a black Nike dress with matching high black boots. The dress was unique and did not resemble sportswear as it buttoned up completely in the front and featured stud detailing on the hips and shoulders. The dress had extreme warrior vibes and embodied the toughness and power that Williams inspires. It was one of the first looks after Williams transitioned from her partnership with Puma to one with Nike. 

The Nike catsuit that Williams wore to the French Open in 2018 generated a lot of debate. Williams said the catsuit helped her cope with the blood cots that she had suffered when giving birth to her daughter. While fans praised the superhero look, French tennis officials were more apprehensive. Bernard Giudicelli, the president of the French Tennis Federation, said the tournament would introduce a dress code. Speaking of the catsuit, Giudicelli said, “It will no longer be accepted. One must respect the game and the place.” Williams responded that she and Giudicelli had a good relationship and that the federation had a right to issue the ban. While Williams herself did not express agitation toward the Federation, it was another example of Williams’ attracting media coverage for her fashion. 

One of the most iconic looks from Williams’ tennis matches was her black tutu dress at the 2018 U.S. Open. This dress was designed in a collaboration between Virgil Abloh and Nike. The dress was inspired by Williams’ love of dance and ballet. This look is significant because it was a symbol of how Williams embraces her femininity and does not see this as antagonistic to her athletic superiority. Too often, female athletes are pushed to abandon their feminine side since it is perceived as weakness. Just think of the phrase, “You throw like a girl.” Instead of pushing her femininity aside, Williams embraced it in her tutu and looked as powerful and dominant as ever as she played at the highest level of her sport. 

The final outfit was her most recent look at the 2021 Australian Open. Her unique asymmetrical catsuit was red, pink, blue and black. Even more interesting than the look itself, however, was the inspiration behind it. The look was a tribute to Olympic runner Florence Griffith Joyner, also known as “Flo-Jo.” Joyner has held the 100- and 200-meter world records since 1988 and, like Williams, is an inspiration for Black female athletes everywhere. Flo-Jo loved wearing bright colors, long acrylic nails and one-legged track bodysuits.

“I was inspired by Flo-Jo, who was a wonderful track athlete when I was growing up,” Williams said of the tribute. So, beyond the style component, this is my favorite look because it speaks to the translational power of fashion. Williams took inspiration from another great female athlete and used fashion as a tool to honor her greatness. 

Williams has many qualities worthy of celebration and respect, from her status as one of the greatest athletes of all time to her extensive charitable work. But one aspect of Williams that should not be forgotten is her iconic fashion that has continued to push the boundaries of conservative tennis fashion since the early 2000s. Williams has used her wardrobe to express her blend of power and grace, as well as to pay homage to other great female athletes.


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