Tennis, Anyone? The Tennis Skirt vs. the Tennis Dress

Preppy fashion is back, and with its return came the return of the tennis dress and skirt. But which is the one for you?

September 1, 2023

When Gossip Girl left our screens (the first time), many fashionistas despaired that preppy fashion would forever be gone from our runways and mood boards. The Alice bands, the collared shirts, the knit vests, the crisp pleated skirts. Lucky for us, fashion moves in cycles and this particular cycle has brought preppy, schoolgirl, or collegiate fashion back into our lives. A natural avenue of this trend is a move towards pleats, and what's preppier or has more pleats than a good, crisp tennis skirt or dress? Tennis outfits carry that classic “old money” aesthetic: think Hampton summers, visors, pearls, and a gin fizz or Pimms firmly in hand. If this sounds like it's up your alley, let’s take a closer look at the resurgence of preppy sportswear and the merits of dresses versus skirts.

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Game, Set Match

Though some in the fashion community believe that sportswear should stay on the court or track, we come from a different direction. Tennis whites are a classic both on and off the court. Ever since women were first permitted onto courts, tennis went from being just a game to a fashion show that happened to feature a little sport as well. Womens dresses on the court began as high-necked and long-skirted in the early 1900s. Tennis was once only a sport for the supremely wealthy, which is one of the reasons the players were able to wear white: they had the staff required to keep the uniforms crisp and clean. Suzanne Lenglen caused quite a stir in the 1920s, stepping onto the court with bare arms and a long pleated skirt, and just like that, tennis outfits became a subject of discussion that would last for the next hundred years and longer. Skirts grew shorter, and different players imposed their own senses of style onto the classic whites, with the only constant remaining the colour. The 1990s brought with them an injection of colour from Andre Agassi and a wave of rebellion against strict dress codes. Today, the standard is still white, but sartorially eloquent players like Venus and Serena Williams often challenge the norms.

Why Dress for Tennis?

Tennis players in white skirts or dresses exude health, fitness, and wealth — all desirable traits. Taking tennis fashions off the court and into our daily wardrobes brings with them a trace of those traits and offers us a chance to step into a different world.

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Skirts or Dresses?

Skirts versus dresses is a debate that rages not only in the tennis department but across all of fashion. Which of these options you choose will be based on what you need from a look, your style preferences, and how much time you have to craft the outfit.

Typically, putting on a dress means that your outfit is done. Dresses are a one-stop shop: pop one over your shoulders, and you’re fully covered up to your length of choice. Tennis dresses, more often than not, end above the knee. If you’re aiming for a court-ready look, there's not much you need to add to a tennis dress other than a few classy, well-chosen accessories to round off the look. There are collared and long-sleeved versions for when the weather is cool — you can accessorise these with a tennis v-neck or sweater vest and a pair of tights — and on summer days, you could opt for daring cutout dresses or classic sleeveless v-necks. The short-sleeved versions can take a little more accessorising: add a visor and drape a jersey over your shoulders for visual interest. Add some slouchy socks to your footwear, and you are ready to go!

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If you’re planning to wear your tennis wear off-court to a date night or a birthday party, you can be a little more free with how you style your skirt or dress up or down. You could daringly combine your tennis dress — with a smooth, tight-fitting top and boxy, pleated bottom — with sheer stockings and pointed-toe kitten heels. Add a leather moto jacket or a cropped puffer to the look for an evening out. Tennis skirts are particularly lovely for summer day wear. Style them with sneakers and a baby tee for a day in the park, mules and a button-down 90s style vest for brunch with the girls, or a pair of platform Mary Janes and a low-cut v-neck for a night on the town.

Whether you choose a full dress or a skirt in a classic white or a more stimulating colour is entirely up to you. Everything in your wardrobe — everything you wear — is there to work for you. Your clothing is there to help you feel however you want. The question is: why choose at all when you can have both dress and skirt options in your wardrobe?

Wrap Up

Tennis dresses and skirts are integral to any preppy style-lover’s wardrobe. The styling choices you have on your hands are countless, and what they say is true: the classics never go out of style.

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