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Tennis wear that's love at first serve

With the U.S. Open approaching, we look at tennis wear that gives you the advantage.

August 21, 2011|By Laurie Drake, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Danish company Pure Lime makes tennis wear in fashion-forward colors and styles.
Danish company Pure Lime makes tennis wear in fashion-forward colors and… (Pure Lime )

Recreational tennis players can only admire the talent on display during the summer's big Grand Slam tournaments — the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, which is slated to begin Aug. 29. But they do have something in common with the pros: a desire to look good on the court.

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.

Old-school glam

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.

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