Although men have played a game similar to modern tennis since Tudor times, women were not able not join them until the 1870s, when the game became fashionable in England after the patenting of the modern tennis court by Major Wingfield (1873). At first, female players made little accommodation in their dress, wearing fashionable outfits, often with tightly swathed, ankle length skirts and trimmed hats or bannets. Usually, as here with this 1880s costume, a bright easily-washable cotton was preferred although thin woollen jersey was also used. Aprons emblazoned with appropriate emblems could be worn to hold a supply of tennis balls, ready for serving.
Tennis was an important innovation, allowing women to engage in strenuous sport in an entirely socially acceptable manner, as the Field wrote in 1885: “Lawn Tennis has taught women how much they are capable of doing and it is a sign of the times that various games and sports which would have been tabooed a few years ago as “unladylike” are actually encouraged at various girls’ schools”.