Serena Williams US Open Outfit Symbolism Explained

As Serena Williams competes at the U.S. Open 2022, all eyes will be upon her. The tennis champion—winner of a whopping 23 Grand Slams—is largely considered to be one of The greatest, if not theThe greatest athletes ever. Her announcement that she would be retiring from tennis was a huge deal. The crowds at Arthur Ashe Stadium were captivated on both the first and second rounds. And her striking outfit—a black tennis dress embellished with a galaxy of crystals and laden with symbolism—has only added to the drama of her final tournament.

Sparkling from her head to her toes, Williams’ ensemble is not just a fashion statement, but also a declaration of her legacy as a tennis great; her jeweled hairstyle is a nod to her first Grand Slam win at the age of 17 at the 1999 U.S. Open, while her swirling skirt references the six wins she’s taken home at the New York City tournament. Williams’ choice to use fashion as a medium to tell her story should come as no surprise; this is, after all, a superstar athlete who announced her intention to evolve away from tennis on the cover of Vogue’s September issue.

Williams has a eponymous line of clothing and a jewelry line. She is a long-time fashion fan. When she dresses for competition, it’s not just for function, but also to declare her indomitable presence; in an interview with the New York Times, Tania Flynn, the vice president for women’s apparel design at Nike, said that Williams’ on-court fashion has always been intentional, making the point “that women deserve to be seen.”

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This is best illustrated by her choice to wear a bold black catsuit at 2018 French Open. The piece made international headlines after officials criticized the style, deeming it inappropriate and later banning it from the competition for that reason; the tight design was specifically chosen by Williams to prevent blood clots she’d been experiencing following the birth of her daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian the year earlier, sparking a larger conversation about race, the policing of women’s bodies, and Black maternal health. Williams wore a striking athletic dress and a tutu skirt inspired by ballerinas at the tournament days later. This was Virgil Abloh’s collaboration with Nike. It was a fashion moment—an overtly feminine, untraditional take on a tennis uniform—and it seemed to communicate a statement from Williams that she could dominate in any outfit.

Which is why, as Williams prepares to say goodbye to the sport that she has forever changed, unpacking the messages hidden in her clothing can help us understand how she’s defining her own legacy. Williams is well aware of the impact that she’s had, not only on her sport, but also in the way that young women, especially Black girls and other girls of color, see themselves. “Giving them that confidence, that motivation, is something that has literally never been done,” Williams told TIME in a cover story about her decision to step back. “You don’t let the world decide beauty.”

She wore a tennis dress that reflects her heritage at the U.S. Open.

According to a press release from Nike, Williams took a “hands-on approach” to designing her look for the 2022 U.S. Open, a black tennis dress with sheer long sleeves, a crystal-embellished bodice, and a swirling six-layer skirt that she has worn in her first two matches. While the overall design was inspired by figure skating costumes, the elaborate crystal designs on the black fabric are a nod to Arthur Ashe Stadium’s night sky. She refers to the six Grand Slam wins she has at U.S. Open by referencing her skirt with six layers. She paired her tennis dress with a matching jacket, tote bag and jacket for the first and second rounds.

Her custom sneakers feature 400 diamonds and solid gold deubrés

For her U.S. Open footwear, Williams designed a custom pair of Nike’s PE NikeCourt Flare 2 style sneakers that boast some serious bling. Details of the shoes include diamond encrusted swooshes, Williams’ initials on the inner sides, and solid gold deubrés on the laces. The gold deubrés, which were made in collaboration with Williams’ jewelry line, feature 400 hand-set diamonds in black ceramic, with the jewels spelling out the words “queen” and “mama” on each shoe.

Her first Grand Slam win is reflected in her hair jewellery

For her first two matches, Williams’ hair has been styled in a ponytail with a headband encrusted with crystals to match her sparkling tennis dress. Her ponytail features tiny jewels that are placed through her hair. This is a nod to Williams’ glamorous look and also the white beads on her braids in 1999 when she won the Grand Slam. On Instagram, her hairstylist Nikki Nelms posted a photo of Williams’ ponytail with the caption: “Forever shining.”

The message on her earrings was also special

Williams has infused every part of her look, right down to the most minute details, with meaning. Her eponymous jewellery collection provided the earrings that Williams wore to her first and second matches. They spelled out her name. Loved.

Even her daughter Olympia’s outfit held special significance

While the stands for Monday’s opening night match were filled with no shortage of high-profile spectators, who ranged from former President Bill Clinton and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour to fellow athletes Mike Tyson and Tiger Woods, the most precious member of the crowd may have been Williams’ 5-year-old daughter Olympia, who cheered on her mother in a bedazzled shirt that matched Williams’ sparkling dress. Armed with a disposable camera which she used to snap pictures of her mother’s victorious first match, Olympia also sported white beads in her braids in a nod to the hairstyle Williams wore in the 1999 U.S. Open Finals.

As Williams marches on at the U.S. Open, she’ll continue to tell her own story on the court—through her style as well as her play.

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