Tenniscore is on the rise, thanks to 'Challengers.' Why fans are leaning in to 'method dressing' at the movies.

"Challengers" is the latest film to inspire fashion trends.

Zendaya dressed in country club chic during the Challengers photo-call in Milan. (Stefania D'Alessandro/Getty Images)

Zendaya’s longtime stylist Law Roach knows how to orchestrate a style moment.

By dressing the actress in tennis-themed outfits to promote her latest film Challengers — think: tennis balls on high heels, athletic silhouettes and Wimbledon whites — Roach was building up momentum not only for the movie but also for its aesthetic.

Then he issued a call to action to fans awaiting the film’s theatrical release.

“I have a favor,” he said in a video posted to X on April 19. “I would love, love, love for when you go to see the film April 26, that you wear your tenniscore.”

Roach encouraged fans to get “decked out” in quiet luxury staples like pleated skirts, cable-knit sweaters, polo shirts and slicked-back ponytails as a show of support for the actress, who stars as tennis phenom turned coach Tashi Duncan in the Luca Guadagnino-directed sports romance.

He also asked people to share photos of their looks on social media with the hashtag #TashiMadeMeWearIt.

A movie fashion challenge was born. When Challengers hit theaters, fans heeded the call.

Sarah Krueger, who lives in Los Angeles, dressed up to see Challengers. She told Yahoo Entertainment that she was drawn to Zendaya’s press tour looks and wanted to put her own spin on tenniscore.

“When I went to see the movie, I kid you not, my whole row was dressed up in tenniscore fashion,” she said.

“Zendaya has been someone that I’ve looked up to since she was on [Disney Channel’s] Shake It Up,” Krueger said. “She’s the pinnacle of what it means to be a fashion icon ... and it’s fascinating to see how that trickles down in terms of people following her lead and dressing up, even if it’s just [for] their local movie theater.”

Holly Agnes drew inspiration from her grandmother for her Challengers-themed getup. Zendaya even “liked” her Instagram post showcasing her look.

“I used a combo of a skirt I already had, a top that I bought second-hand and then upcycled with embroidery,” Agnes, who lives in Cornwall, England, told Yahoo. “I also used my granny’s vintage tennis racket from the 1940s as a prop for the photos.”

For Tyler Conroy, who lives in New York City, dressing up for the Guadagnino movie presented an opportunity to revisit his teenage years.

“I did not own any tennis clothing nor have I played tennis since high school gym class,” Conroy told Yahoo. “As a gay man who never really leaned into the high school sports era that many other cis-men get the opportunity to do, it was so fun to wear this queer sports fit and heal that inner teenager who never had an opportunity to wear something so confidently like this.”

This isn’t the first time people are dressing in theme to see a movie.

1975’s Rocky Horror Picture Show kick-started the trend, Frenchy Lunning, a design history and cultural studies professor at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design told Yahoo Entertainment.

The film was a box office flop but found a loyal cult following among the Baby-boomer generation at independent movie theaters. There, the film was often screened at midnight and audience participation — singing along, dressing up like the characters and holding up lighters — was welcomed.

Barry Bostwick, Susan Sarandon, Tim Curry and Peter Hinwood.
Barry Bostwick, Susan Sarandon, Tim Curry and Peter Hinwood in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. (GAB Archive/Redferns)

Rocky Horror, Lunning explained, set a precedent for the type of films that encouraged fans in costume.

Film franchises like Star Wars, Star Trek and Harry Potter have dedicated and enthusiastic fandoms who are known to go all out when dressing for theatrical premieres.

Paul Booth, the associate dean at DePaul University’s College of Communication, told Yahoo that showing up to the movies in costume is typically associated with specific genres because they tend to have the “most interesting and iconic” costumes to put on.

“Many of those sci-fi/fantasy/horror franchises have always been quite popular as subjects of fan conventions, where there’s more history of people dressing up in cosplay,” he said. “Dressing up at films is probably an offshoot of that too.”

Several people dressed as characters from Star Wars.
People dressed as characters from Star Wars on May 4 in Milan, Italy. (Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images)

2023 marked a notable mainstream embrace of dressing up for movies. Fans put on their best hot pink ensembles to see Barbie when it hit theaters in July. Theatergoers continued the trend by dressing up for Taylor Swift and Beyoncé’s concert films, drawing inspiration from Swift’s several music eras and Bey’s silver “Renaissance” tour dress code, respectively.

Agnes said she’s been “method dressing” since Greta Gerwig’s Barbie hit theaters last summer.

“I think there’s a big shift from the more cosplay-style theme dressing up to a fashion-centric method dressing, where instead of dressing up in a literal costume, fans are taking the themes or characters of the film as inspiration… but are not necessarily replicating their looks,” she said.

While promoting Barbie, Margot Robbie drew inspiration from actual outfits worn by the famous Mattel doll. Channeling a different Barbie at each photo-call, she dressed in an array of sparkly fabrics, flirty silhouettes and a whole lot of pink.

Robbie’s homage didn’t go unnoticed. Leaning into the film’s embrace of girlhood and femininity, generations of fans were inspired to wear their most playful, pink ensembles to watch the film.

Margot Robbie in polka-dot-pink outfit next to pink Corvette and sign that reads: Barbie.
Margot Robbie promoting Barbie in Los Angeles. (Matt Winkelmeyer/WireImage)

Rebecca Williams, an associate professor in media audiences and participatory cultures at the University of South Wales, said Barbie marked a turning point where showing affinity and connection was no longer limited to niche fandoms.

“There was a real element of creativity within this because people interpreted the Barbie look very differently,” she explained. “You could go in a more casual or subtle way and just wear pink as one item of clothing or accessory or you could really embrace it and wear something really over the top.”

Recognizing the benefit of making fans feel included is key, Williams said.

“Fans are a really lucrative group of people and if you can create new fans of a film by encouraging this type of behavior, then they may go and see it multiple times and become a loyal supporter of that film,” she explained.

It’s also smart marketing.

“I think it’s also a way for advertisers and marketers to ‘drum up’ the appearance of popularity for films,” Booth explained. “Since [dressing up] makes such a strong visual statement, it works as a form of ‘free’ advertising.”

Williams added, “This is especially important for films like Challengers, which aren’t big fantasy or comic book films and may not be familiar for audiences.”

Zendaya’s press tour looks didn’t just generate hype around her new film, they also made tenniscore a real-life fashion trend.

Fashion retailer Boohoo found that Pinterest searches for "tennis skirt outfit summer" increased 138% from February to April in the U.S. Searches for "tennis skirt outfit street style" and "tennis dress outfit" were also on the rise.

More brands are hopping on the tennis-themed bandwagon. Alo Yoga unveiled its tennis club capsule collection, and jewelry brands Swarovski and Catbird are both promoting tennis bracelets. Outlets from Cosmopolitan to Elle to Town & Country pulled together style guides to help readers more readily embrace tenniscore.

Artful marketing tactics aside, fans’ decision to dress up for movies is simple.

“It allows you to take a theme and make it your own,” Conroy said. “It just really makes you feel like you’re a part of the thing that is also bringing you joy.”