Serena’s style changed the game in fashion, business

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NEW YORK – From glossy magazine covers to generation-defining on-court styles, Serena Williams took a bow at the U.S. Open on Friday, having rewritten the fashion playbook for female athletes while building an empire of her own.

The 23-times Grand Slam winner chose the bible of women s fashion, Vogue, to announce she was “evolving away from tennis,” before taking to the court in her bedazzling Nike sneakers at the U.S. Open this week under the watchful eyes of the magazine s grand dame, Anna Wintour.

The fiercely competitive queen of Queens put on a gritty performance in what is widely expected to be her final tournament, losing in the third round 7-5 6-7 (4) 6-1 to Ajla Tomljanovic with her legacy as a cultural icon firmly in place.

“Style and sport have always been closely intertwined, but no athlete embraced the power of fashion like Serena Williams,” Katie Abel, executive editor of Footwear News, told Reuters.

“She’s never shied away from boundary-breaking looks, on or off the court, and always knows how to send a message, even if it’s controversial.”

She famously competed in Flushing Meadows in a denim skirt in 2004 and ruffled feathers at Roland-Garros in 2018, when she wore a black catsuit to keep her circulation going after developing blood clots in the days after giving birth.

After organisers said they would ban the catsuit from their clay courts, Williams  supporters cried foul. Williams quipped to the Associated Press: “When it comes to fashion, you don’t want to be a repeat offender.”

The moment was an instant classic and showed she could harness fashion to disrupt the status quo, said Katie Lebel, a researcher of gender equity in sport and assistant professor at University of Guelph.

“Sexism has been pretty pervasive when it comes to women’s clothing… The expectations around what women athletes should look like that been particularly steeped in that,” she said.

“Enter Serena and she pushed back against all this. I think she really rethought (the) uniform standards for women in tennis.”

Serena and her sister Venus brought Black style to the overwhelmingly white sport when they first took the court as professionals in the 1990s, facing criticism for wearing beaded braids in competition.

Williams wore the style when she won her inaugural Grand Slam in New York. Photos of daughter Olympia in identical plaits in the stands at Flushing Meadows this year were an instant sensation.

“From the moment Serena and her sister Venus stepped onto the court in their signature braids… they have been role models for Black women and aspiring female athletes everywhere,” said Abel.