June 20, 1949 — Teddy Tinling – or, to give him his proper name, Cuthbert Collingwood Tinling – was a tennis player, fashion designer and sports writer. But for him it was game, set and match on this day when, at Wimbledon, Gussie Moran wore a controversial outfit that he had created.
It featured a short skirt revealing, at certain angles, lace-trimmed panties.
Nothing like this had been seen at Wimbledon before and photographers lay on their backs to capture the “racy” and “naughty” outfit worn by the player who was hailed as “Gorgeous Gussie” by the newspapers.
“The fringed panties are very much in evidence when Gussie races across the court or leaps for a high shot,” Associated Press reported.
The tennis establishment was outraged and Tinling, who had served as an official Wimbledon host for 23 years, was asked to “take leave” of his position. He would not be invited back for 33 years.
The Committee of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club accused 25-year-old Moran of bringing “vulgarity and sin into tennis.” Chairman Sir Louis Greig castigated her for "having drawn attention to the sexual area.” The affair even led to a debate in Parliament.
Gussie, ranked No. 4 in the United States, won the US women’s indoor championship that year and reached the quarter finals at Wimbledon. Noted for her powerful forehand, she won her match, defeating Bea Walter of Britain, but the tennis was forgotten, her “revealing” outfit dominating the press coverage.
In 2002, former tennis champion Jack Kramer said in a newspaper interview: “Gussie was the Anna Kournikova of her time. She was a beautiful woman with a beautiful body. If she had played in the era of television, no telling what would have happened. Because, besides everything else, Gussie could play.”
But a couple of years earlier, Gussie told a reporter: “I was really never anything to write home about. I was a plain girl. But Life magazine ran a picture calling me ‘Gorgeous Gussie’, and the British picked it up and did a real job with it.”
She said she wanted a Wimbledon title more than anything else. “I was interested in clothes I could play tennis in, not in creating a sensation and certainly not in anything anyone would consider in poor taste.”
Tinling, who went on to design tennis dresses for many great players, including Billie Jean King, Virginia Wade, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, backed her up. “Gussie wasn’t a revolutionary,” he told The Times. “She wore the dress for two reasons: she wanted to look good, and the shorter dress allowed her to move more freely on the court.”
After her tennis career ended, Moran worked as a radio host in Los Angeles and New York and formed her own clothing company. In later years she moved from job to job and was reported at one time to be living in poverty in one room of a run-down building in Hollywood.
She died in 2013, aged 89, after suffering from cancer.
Published: May 2, 2017