SI Vault
Frank Deford
July 09, 1984
Since the days when peach ice cream tasted like peach ice cream, Teddy Tinling's grace and sense of history have meant as much to tennis as his dress designs
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July 09, 1984

A Head To Heed

Since the days when peach ice cream tasted like peach ice cream, Teddy Tinling's grace and sense of history have meant as much to tennis as his dress designs

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"And better," said the Tyro.

"Oh, no. They only make us think they're better because they please us so."


"You see, when you dress a player you must take into account both her personality and the way she hits a ball. I would never dare dress a player without seeing her play. And sometimes the person and the player can be quite contradictory. I originally objected when Billie Jean wanted frillier dresses, but I went along with her and put her into the sequin business—I called it my firefly collection—because she was big enough to pull it off. They said she looked like an aging rock queen, but in the context of her majesty, that was a compliment."

Teddy doesn't design anymore; he has found other ways to communicate than through dresses. Then, too, he's appalled at the standard issue all the women now wear on tour. Putting aside that most of the players choose ho-hum little skirts instead of shorts, the pervasive separates style has returned, a throwback to the spare '30s. Tinling, raging, attributes this homicide of glamour to two factors. First, commerce. Tennis fashion today is, he says, "an Italian and German war fought on American soil with government subsidies." The main continental clothing firms have under contract the most visible stars, who in effect appear as mannequins for the firms. That any star would wear anything unique is, of course, antithetical to the whole idea. Rather, the point is to get the stars to dress in the lowest common off-the-rack denominator so that consumers can purchase the exact same outfit. In many respects, people don't even wear clothes anymore; they wear threads that are coincidentally attached to a logo.

Second—bombs away!—Teddy Tin-ling holds the feminist movement responsible for this regressive androgynization. " America's influence has produced a mentality of misguided equality, the idea that if you serve and volley like men, you can be equal to men," he says. "I've never thought anybody should copy anybody else. Instead, you should promote what is different. But it's not just the women. The first time I was in Japan, they wanted me to design something. So I started talking about using cherry blossoms and all the other beautiful indigenous effects. They looked at me as if I were crazy. They had in mind something that would make them all look like third-class American cowboys. But that symbolized progress to them." He shakes his hairless head in disgust.

For now then, while the Philistines continue to dress tennis players, Teddy would prefer to look at the clothes that skaters and skiers wear. "But someday," he says, "someday soon some new genius will come along, and she will be so talented and so independent that she will change everything around again." Probably, he thinks, this once and future Suzanne will choose a body stocking of some new fabric, or maybe she won't wear anything of substance at all—just body paint. White body paint at Wimbledon, of course.

I've always had an extraordinary instinct for what's going to happen next. I can hardly wait to come back to find out what's going to happen next in tennis. The rest of it, all the Star Wars stuff, is terribly predictable, isn't it? We know what will happen in the world, more or less, don't we? But we don't know what will happen in tennis, and I can hardly wait to find out.

Teddy has it all quite organized. The sale of the diamond in his ear will take care of the bothersome funeral details. There won't be a burial, though. With no children or grandchildren to come around to a grave years from now and put flowers on it, he has willed his body to the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. More important, he's leaving all his tennis effects to Steve Flink, a prodigy of tennis knowledge, who, of the younger generation, Teddy believes, most shows the proper reverence for the sport. A senior writer at World Tennis, Flink is 32 now. In being willed Tinling's collection, he has promised Teddy that he won't forget to pay homage to the memory of Suzanne's centennial triumph at Wimbledon, in 2019. Flink will be 67 then. Teddy will be 109. God willing, by that time peach ice cream will finally be up to snuff again.

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