Tag Archives: Tom Boy

Alice Marble Tennis Dress, Circa 1940

I purchased this circa 1940 tennis dress for several reasons. First, I love labels that sport the name of a star in the sport. Today the practice is ubiquitous, but in the first half of the Twentieth Century, the practice was new. Alice Marble is not exactly a household name today, but she was tennis’s hottest woman star in the late 1930s.

I bought the dress even though it is not complete. There was very likely a matching belt and panties, both of which are missing. But the style was quite nice, I loved the label, and the price was right, so I added it to my collection.

At the time I knew very little about Marble, except that she dominated women’s tennis in the late 1930s. It turns out that she was much more than just a tennis champion.

I recently read tennis star Althea Gibson’s autobiography, I Always Wanted to Be Somebody. In it she talks about how she watched Alice play an exhibition match around 1940, and how Alice became an important supporter later on:

“… I had no way of knowing then that, when the time came for me to be up for an invitation to play at Forest Hills, my biggest supporter, aside from a handful of my own people, would be this same Alice Marble.”

Because she was Black, segregation rules kept Althea from playing in the big US tournaments. Incensed, in 1950 Alice wrote an editorial in the American Lawn Tennis Magazine.

“Miss Gibson is over a very cunningly wrought barrel, and I can only hope to loosen a few of its staves with one lone opinion. If tennis is a game for ladies and gentlemen, it’s also time we acted a little more like gentle-people and less like sanctimonious hypocrites…If Althea Gibson represents a challenge to the present crop of women players, it’s only fair that they should meet that challenge on the courts.” 

And so they did. And the rest is history. Althea went on to win both the US Open and Wimbledon twice, and was the dominant women’s player in the late 1950s.

The dress in my collection is a great example of early 1940s tennis wear. The fit is easy, with a pullover bodice and side zipper. The skirt is very full and is knee-length. The sleeves are mere caps, and are split for mobility.

There’s no place to store an extra ball, but that feature might have been incorporated into the panties.

The Tom Boy label began in 1938, and was owned by the same Baltimore company, Straus, Royer, and Strass, that owned American Golfer. I found references to Alice Marble designs from 1939 to 1941.

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