Feeling confident is part of the mental game of tennis, at whatever level it's played. Part of the confidence equation comes from wearing high-tech "performance fabrics" that are moisture-wicking, anti-microbial, UV-shielding and muscle-supporting (thanks to the strategic placement of poly-spandex).
But typically tennis outfits leave a little to be desired on the fashion side of things, unless the wearer is young and slender and can otherwise rock the boy shorts of Nike and Fila or the pleated satin skirts of Adidas by Stella McCartney. Truth be told, even some of the fittest bodies on the planet — the twentysomethings on tour with the Women's Tennis Assn. — aren't exactly flattered by the athletic cuts of the big brands. Witness the inadvertent muffin tops and sausage thighs tightly encased by narrow skirts that are only 12 inches long.
Fortunately a new crop of fashion designers, many of them tennis players, is filling this breach with 14-inch-long skirts and other welcome details.
"I have a 20-year-old daughter and I can't compete with her tight tennis clothes, but I still want to look feminine and strong and healthy," says Adalicia Martin, a 42-year-old designer who plays USTA League tennis in Whittier.
Stuart Hudson of the Pure Lime tennis line says, "Our customer demographic is age 30 to 50 — it's not an 18-year-old. Because when you think about it, a lot of women play tennis in high school and college. Then they stop to have a career, get married, have babies, or all three, and only start playing again in their early 30s. But their bodies have altered a bit — the bust grows, the waist grows, the hips grow. Not that these women don't work out. In fact I'm in Florida on business, and there are women playing tennis who are 85 with fabulous legs because they're running around the court."
The designers are on to something. The largest group of frequent players (those who hit the court 21 or more times a year) are ages 35 to 49, followed by those who are 50 or older, according to the latest statistics from the Tennis Industry Assn. For anyone who falls into either of these groups — or who isn't happy with mainstream off-the-rack choices — here are some fashion lines that refuse to sacrifice style for comfort, while affording enough coverage so the wearer can do a few errands after tennis without raising eyebrows.
To comply with the all-white dress code of her tennis club in Southampton, Long Island (the Meadow Club), 45-year-old Martha McGuinness started designing her eponymous line four years ago. Now it's sold at private clubs up and down the East Coast, including at the Maidstone Club in East Hampton and the Palm Beach Bath & Tennis Club in Florida, as well as in Lyford Cay in the Bahamas. It has also hit the West Coast and can be found at the Riviera and Los Angeles country clubs.
Now that she lives in Los Angeles, where all-white rules are anachronistic, McGuinness has branched out by offering her styles in one other color: navy blue. "Gasp! Muffy is rolling over in her grave," says McGuinness with a laugh.
Her tops, skirts and dresses trimmed in rick-rack or grosgrain ribbon are preppy without being dowdy, "because my customers work out many hours a day and have beautiful figures and want to show them off, but in a perfectly appropriate country club way." These ladies don't like logos, so the only place you'll see the McGuinness name is on the inside label. But to those in the know her tennis dresses are unmistakable, with names such as the Tie Front, the Henley (with three-quarter-inch sleeves) and the Super Sexy, with ruching across the torso and a built-in padded bra (using tailoring gleaned from McGuinness' years as an executive at Victoria's Secret).
Price range: $70 to $140; Available at Palisades Tennis Center, 851 Alma Real Drive, Pacific Palisades, (310) 573-1331; BusterPro, 11740 San Vicente Blvd., No. 110, Los Angeles, (310) 820-6140; and http://www.marthamcguinness.com.
Couture on the court
A tennis player since she was 12, Adalicia Martin of Adaly Designs has had a long career as a seamstress but started sketching tennis clothes three years ago when she couldn't find age-appropriate outfits in stores.
Catering to women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s who want custom-made tennis tops, skirts, and vests, she takes measurements at the client's home (or in her studio in Rosemead), sketches the design and offers a choice of fabric swatches in solids or prints (or the customer can supply her own). After the sample is done, a fitting is arranged, and the outfit is delivered after final alterations. Certain styles are perennial, such as her sleeveless blouse in a chiffon-like stretch print with a single ruffle down the front "to camouflage a large bosom and elongate the torso." A wrap skirt in a solid color has a tie front and built-in shorts that match the blouse. "That skirt is designed to cover and flatten the tummy, for those who think they have one," she says. The result is an elegant outfit that belies the game the wearer brings. Think that graciously attired woman across the net won't smash your lob? Or drop-shot you till the cows come home? Talk about a psych-out.
Price range: $35 to $45; Contact Adaly Designs at (626) 373-4041.
With its Scandinavian design sensibility, the Danish company Pure Lime is known for its fashion-forward colors and styles — and its American fit. In other words, the clothes won't be as "skinny in the hip" as other European brands, says the fiftysomething co-owner Stuart Hudson, who grew up playing tennis on the grass courts of England.
"They do a 10-inch grade, which means a skirt with a 26-inch waistline has a 36-inch hip," Hudson says. "But we do a 12-inch grade, meaning a 26-inch waistline will have a 38-inch hip."
Besides the fun but not flashy colors, what appeals to baby boomers are the slightly A-line skirts, the contrasting trim that slims and a judicious use of pleats or half-pleats to add flirt and enhance movement on the court without referencing the tutu.
Price range: $50 to $90; Available at BusterPro, 11740 San Vicente Blvd., No. 110, Los Angeles, (310) 820-6140; Net Results, 23564 Calabasas Road, Calabasas, (818) 222-2743; or at http://www.tenniswarehouse.com.
Far from basic
With a 2-year-old child at home and a Vancouver-based company to run, 43-year-old Linda Hipp has had to put her tennis game on the back burner. But she was inspired to start Lija (pronounced lee-jah, it's a play on the word leisure) by a void in the market.
"There were tons of basic tennis clothes available, but there was a lack of uniqueness," she says. "I figured, I'm a fashionable person, I have style, so why does that need to change when I go out on the tennis court?" To that end her tops, skirts and dresses bear design details plucked from the Paris runways, including bows, zippers and tiered ruffles rendered in a sporty, not girly, way.
But what really distinguishes her line is a fabric she calls Compression, a nylon-Lycra blend that's cool to the touch, lightweight and stretchy enough to provide body-hugging support. You can find it in her bestselling Risk skort and the Brace tank, which has a scoop neck, shelf bra, criss-cross straps and a midriff-smoothing waist.
Price range: $70 to $120; Available at Palisades Tennis Center, 851 Alma Real Drive, Pacific Palisades, (310) 573-1331; Frontrunners, 11640 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 820-7585; BusterPro, 11740 San Vicente Blvd., No. 110, Los Angeles, (310) 820-6140; and http://www.lijastyle.com.