Fashion: Oh, I say! Whatever happened to the frilly knickers?

Follow the Wimbledon stars - tennis chic can really improve your swing. By Tamsin Blanchard
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The Independent Culture
"OOH, TENNIS fashion. Isn't that all frilly knickers and short skirts?" I happen to be speaking with Antoni, half of the design duo Antoni & Alison. "Hmmm," I agree. The tabloids certainly think "frilly knickers" every year as the strawberries are hand-picked and the cream freshly churned in time for Wimbledon. Two headlines in particular stand out in my memory: "Skirty Love" and "Welcome to Wimblebum". Athena posters have a lot to answer for. "I suppose it's not frilly knickers any more," sighs Antoni. "It's probably all high-tech and heavily breathable."

The idea of heavily breathable tennis dresses is one that could really take off. Tennis, and the young stars who play it, have become thoroughly sexy. Anna Kournikova and Martina Hingis, the two glamorous teenage players who will be the focus of sports and fashion commentators alike when they take to the centre court at the end of the month have certainly set the pulses racing.

American GQ made Hingis its cover girl this month. Not only will her glamour image boost magazine sales, it will guarantee a rise in television viewing figures for Wimbledon too.

Die-hard fans will already be familiar with Fred Perry's range of T-shirts and pleated skirts. At the David Lloyd tennis club, in Raynes Park, south London, where we took these pictures last week, the courts were packed with women practising their volleys. This is the place for ladies who lunch, training with a personal tennis coach in the morning, followed by a light lunch and a match before a swim and a sauna.

Louis Vuitton sports holdalls are all the rage. But there is no nonsense with frilly knickers. Most club members cover up with a pair of Lycra cycling shorts under their skirts.

In the locker-room, talk is of whether this year's limited- edition polo shirt by Fred Perry is better than the one by Lacoste. Both companies have declared this year as the polo shirt's 65th anniversary. Lacoste's special edition is a reproduction of a classic V-neck shirt from the early Sixties; Fred Perry's slim fit shirt is also from the Sixties, in the original shades of khaki and camel. It's another world.

And the polo style works off the tennis courts too. Lacoste has a whole range of tennis-inspired womenswear, such as trademark cotton pique wrap dresses and an ankle-length polo dress, with prices starting at pounds 85.

Away from the famous names of tennis, Red or Dead, Bernstock Spiers and Warehouse have all come up with clothes that are streetwear with an eye on the ball boy. Warehouse has the skirt of the season - a little razor- pleated number that is just about long enough to be worn in polite company. Bernstock Spiers and Red Or Dead have both used the tennis favourite, Aertex. Which brings us back to the notion of breathable tennis dresses. Aertex must be one of the oldest high-tech fabrics around, the brainwave of one MP and two doctors who formed the Aertex Company manufacturing the sweat-friendly cotton fabric in 1888.

In those days, women tennis players were restricted to a slower game than is played today, not least because they played in long skirts and long-sleeved tunics topped off with a hat. It was not until 1919 that play was allowed without corsets. Not much heavy breathing there.

Even today, there are strict rules about what can and can't be worn on the tennis court. The Lawn Tennis Association frowns on all-in-one body suits, short shorts, crop tops and anything that flouts the conventions of the neat white Tee and pleated skirt.

It seems strange that women still choose to wear flirty skirts rather than practical shorts like the boys. But then tennis starlets obviously like the attention - although there is no excuse for frilly knickers, on or off the court.

Caption: Main picture, yellow vest, pounds 19.99 by Dans-ez (mail order and inquiries 01843 866300); turquoise and white pleated skirt, pounds 79.99 by Lacoste, from Boutique Lacoste (0171-439 2213); white hooded jacket pounds 50 by Fred Perry, from Lillywhites (0171-307 3500). Below left, white hooded top, pounds 35 from Warehouse (0171-278 3491); yellow shorts, pounds 20.99 by Dans-ez; sweatbands, pounds 6 by Lacoste. Below centre, pink Aertex vest, pounds 52 by Bernstock Speirs from Ten, 10 Columbia Road, London E2 (0171-729 7229); white pedal pushers, pounds 35 from Warehouse. Below right, turquoise and white stripe jacket, pounds 159 (part of a tracksuit), by Lacoste

Photographer: Jon Mortimer Stylist: Holly Wood

Hair: James Mooney for Daniel Hersheson at Julie Bramwell Make-up: Charlotte Day at Rockit

Model: Luba at Select Photographer's assistant: Mark Moon

Shot on location at David Lloyd Club, Raynes Park, London SW20

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