Billie Jean King's Tennis Dress

Worn during the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match at the Astrodome

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On September 20, 1973, Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes,” an exhibition tennis match staged at the Astrodome in Houston. King won $100,000, but the match wasn’t about the money.

Riggs, a former Wimbledon champion, claimed women were inferior tennis players to men. He challenged King, the reigning Wimbledon singles champion and best female tennis player at the time, to a match, and King accepted. Insulting women on a daily basis leading up to the match, Riggs was quoted as saying, “I want to prove that women are lousy, they stink, and they don’t belong on the same court as a man.”

Nationally televised by ABC, 90 million households watched King trounce Riggs in three straight sets. Her win quelled any remaining doubts about the skill, power, and professionalism of female athletes.

King has won over 129 singles matches in her career, including 12 Grand Slam singles titles. She was the founder of the Women's Tennis Association and has been an influential advocate for the sport of tennis and women's rights.

I didn't feel it was a very big accomplishment athletically. But psychologically and emotionally it was a big deal. I knew it might provide a springboard for girls and women in athletics. Billie Jean King

The tennis dress Billie Jean King wore during the match was designed by British designer Ted Tingling. It was actually the back-up dress that Tingling had designed for the match. After King declared the original dress too scratchy, Tingling modified the more modest menthol green and sky blue outfit by adding rhinestones around the neckline. Worried that the harsh lights of the Astrodome would wash out his creation, he sewed on the rhinestones the morning of the match. Tingling’s designs transformed women’s tennis style in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s by introducing players to color, embellishments, and form-fitting, flattering silhouettes.

The dress is part of the sports collection in the Division of Arts and Culture at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

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Billie Jean King's Tennis Dress Artifact from Houston
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