From historical roots to your home court, the tennis headband’s presence is still as fresh as ever.
You know the photo: Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe shoulder to shoulder, hair muffin-topping around terry headbands, the 1980 Wimbledon crowd out of focus behind them. It’s an iconic image of an era in men’s professional tennis, satirized with Luke Wilson’s The Royal Tenenbaums character and inspiring its own stand-alone film. And so when Nikola Aracic, a 46-year-old teaching professional based out of Palm Beach, Florida, was considering video ideas for his YouTube channel Intuitive Tennis, he selected the moment worthy of its own challenge, donning Borg’s vintage outfit down to the tennis headband itself. “[Borg] was the first guy to wear a headband,” Aracic says. “He did have long hair, so it was a functional thing for him, but it just looked so cool.” And that sums up the reason for the best tennis headbands: They’re functional, but they also make you look great when you play.
Since the ‘80s, tennis headbands have evolved from the French terry of the past to the synthetic materials of the present. They’ve also thickened in width and have sometimes added ties, offering options to create the perfect fit for every head. And yet there remain revivalists who, like Aracic, think that the originals will never truly go out of style. “Style in tennis is often overlooked,” he says, almost in warning. So if you’re considering a tennis headband for the courts, there’s not a more significant piece for which to weigh aesthetics.
When it comes to the price of a headband, there’s good news: At $10 to $30, they’re one of the more affordable pieces of tennis apparel you can purchase. The downside, however, is that most players choose to purchase multiples, as once you grow accustomed to a tennis headband, you’ll want to wear one every time you play. “Tennis players are very superstitious,” Aracic continues, “and maybe they feel better if they wear one. It doesn’t necessarily have to have a function.”
The Best Headbands for Men: At a Glance
Sergio Tacchini Tennis Headband
Once revolutionary in its style, the terry headband has since become a costume-like vintage staple, appearing on the court “almost as a joke,” says Diadem tennis founder Evan Specht, himself a former pro player. But Sergio Tacchini’s Tennis Headband remains true to the heritage aesthetic while modernizing the materials for better performance during matches.
Keeping the softness of the cotton feel, Sergio Tacchini adds polyester for moisture management and a small amount of elastane for flex and comfort. It’s crowned with the Tacchini logo, which graced McEnroe’s apparel during the iconic Borg match. “It brings back nostalgia,” says Harry Tong, a 30-year tennis industry vet and founder of the Tennis Spin YouTube channel.
Nike NikeCourt Tennis Headband
Worn by Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, along with many other current luminaries of the sport, the NikeCourt Tennis Headband is emblematic of modern tennis headgear. Sweat-wicking and with rear ties for a custom fit, it’s appropriate for every kind of player.
Lululemon Men’s Metal Vent Tech Headband
If you’re a headband guy across disciplines, the Lululemon Metal Vent Tech Headband may be your best option. Its silver-infused fabric fights stink, while the seamless weave eliminates a potential source of irritation. It’s also incredible at keeping moisture moving. “I don’t like when [a headband] gets too soggy,” says entrepreneur Lavie Sak of ADV Tennis. “I’m a big sweater, so some can get mushy.”
Hydrogen Men’s Headband
Made from moisture-wicking synthetic fabric and lined with a honeycomb pattern to keep it in place, the real story is its skull logo front and center. “It’s more a style than any specific benefit,” says Specht — unless you count intimidation.
Tourna Liquicool Bandana
For the heat-exhaustion-prone, the Tourna Liquicool Bandana cools for up to 12 hours after a quick soak in water. Do we understand the expanding crystal tech it touts? Not in the least. But this thing works way better than a hat, attacking perspiration at the source. “A giant pile of stinky, sweaty-ass hats is not something I want with me every single time I play,” says Beckett Chung, a former collegiate tennis player and founder of the TennCom YouTube channel.
Frequently Asked Questions About Headbands
Why don’t I see anyone wearing a headband on my local courts?
While a staple of the pro sport, both current and historical, Aracic says that their use can often be regional. For example, at his home in Florida, the strength of the sun means that most players favor caps instead. But when he returns home to Germany, Aracic sees most players donning them. So read the room and protect your scalp.
OK, so why wouldn’t I just wear a hat instead?
Specht, who played professionally following a successful collegiate career, says that he favored headbands regardless of sun strength because he didn’t want to see the bill of the hat, which could distract or reduce his vision. Does it actually? “It probably doesn’t in reality,” he admits. But it’s still a factor when considering your headgear options. Try it out and see what you think.
What if I just turn a hat backward?
Yeah, you can do that — in fact, it’s quite common with the pros, and has been, according to Aracic, since the ‘90s. But hats can wet out quickly, especially in warm weather. “There’s so much sweat coming out of my head, it soaks the whole hat super quick,” says Chung, who fell out of love with them while playing collegiate tennis in Victoria, Canada. Nothing is more distracting than the feeling of sweat slipping off a back-turned brim and down your spine.
What’s the cheapest way to buy a lot of high-quality headbands?
Tennis is a year-round sport, which means seasonal colors are used for its tournaments’ seasonal swings. After the Australian Open, the tennis world and its apparel manufacturers turn their attention to the European clay season. It’s out with the old colors and in with the new. So swoop in and buy last season’s hues in bulk. Post-U.S. Open, which takes place in September, is also a great time to stock up.
Can’t I just not wear a hat or headband?
Yes, provided you don’t sweat from your head.