Serena Williams kept it classy in response to the French tennis federation singling out her black catsuit as a reason for a newly-imposed dress code for the French Open.
“Obviously, the Grand Slams have a right to do what they want to do,” the 23-time Grand Slam champion said before taking part in Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day at Ashe Stadium.
“I feel like if and when, of if they know that some things are for health reasons, then there’s no way that they wouldn’t be okay with it.”
During the French Open, Serena indicated the catsuit helped to improve her circulation. She has suffered from blood clots, including during the birth of her daughter, Alexis Olympia, who turns one next Saturday.
Serena said she spoke Friday with Bernard Giudicelli, president of the French tennis federation, who ignited the controversy when he announced a new dress code for the 2019 French Open and specifically mentioned Serena’s catsuit.
“It will no longer be accepted,” Giudicelli told Tennis magazine. “One must respect the game. I think sometimes we’ve gone too far.”
Those comments seem to suggest he found Serena’s fashion choice disrespectful. But Serena indicated there may be room for negotiation.
“He’s been really amazing, so easy to talk to,” she said. “I’m sure we would come to an understanding and everything will be okay.”
Serena did not wear the catsuit at Wimbledon, where she reached the final before losing to Germany’s Angelique Kerber in straight sets. The All-England Club traditionally insists that players wear white at Wimbledon, which would have prevented a Black Panther-inspired fashion statement.
Even white catsuits don’t pass muster at Wimbledon. In 1985, the tournament banned a skin-tight outfit by American Anne White after her first-round match.
Despite Serena’s attempt to diffuse this controversy, the French federation continues to face a torrent of criticism on social media. Celebrities, including mega-producer Shonda Rhimes and actress-director Elizabeth Banks, have taken to Twitter to condemn the decision to ban Serena’s catsuit.
This isn’t the first time Frenchmen in charge of a popular annual event have made a fashion-related decision that prompted charges of sexism. In 2015, the Cannes Film Festival announced that women attending red-carpet events had to wear high heels instead of flats.
Nike, the longtime supplier of Serena’s tennis wardrobe, announced earlier this month that she’ll wear clothing at the U.S. Open from “The Queen Collection,” a collaboration between Serena and fashion designer Virgil Abloh that will feature asymmetrical silhouettes and tutu-like skirts of tulle inspired by her love of dance.
Asked if her Open outfit will do anything to help her circulation, Serena said, “I’ve since found other methods. I wear tights that keep everything going with my blood (to) make sure I’m pretty healthy out there.”
Bernard Giudicelli needs to get over himself — and his racism.