Lawn Tennis Dress (1880s)

What looks to us like an absurdly restrictive dress, with its bustle and floor-length skirt, was a symbol of freedom to the students of the 1880s.

Lawn tennis was the most popular sport in Cambridge – perhaps in part because a tennis party was an acceptable way for women to arrange to meet young men. The result was the mysterious concept of ‘a tennis party without tennis’, recorded in students’ memoirs.

Newnham had its own tennis courts within the grounds (as we still do today). Each hall in College designed its own tennis outfit which aimed at ‘the artistic combination of beauty and freedom of movement.’ Nonetheless, the dress is by modern standards extremely heavy to wear.

View the tennis dress in close-up on the UL digital collections.