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The U.S. Open, diamond bracelets and cute tennis clothes

August 20, 2011 |  7:00 am

21tennisdress It may not be as trend-setting as a designer runway, but the tennis court has made its share of contributions to the world of style. French player Jean René Lacoste's on-court tenacity, for example, earned him the nickname “Le Crocodile” -- with that creature eventually becoming the instantly recognizable logo for the Lacoste brand he founded in 1933.

So as we near the 2011 U.S. Open, which is slated to start Aug. 29, it's only fitting to revisit how that tournament had a hand in the popularity of what's known today as the tennis bracelet.

The relatively simple bracelet, in a precious metal (gold, platinum or silver) and set with a single line of faceted diamonds, traces back to the 18th century, according to the Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion. It was quite popular in the 1920s and '30s, when it was referred to as a straight line or classic diamond line bracelet.

But today, jewelry stores from Zales (where a 1-carat version in sterling silver retails for $749) to Tiffany & Co. (3.6 carats set in platinum, $17,000) call them tennis bracelets. For that we can thank Chris Evert, who was wearing a diamond and gold version of the bracelet on court at the U.S. Open when it broke and fell off her arm, requiring the game to be stopped until she could find it.

Most tennis observers pinpoint the incident as occurring in September 1987. Evert, when contacted for this article, couldn't say for sure, but recalled it taking place much earlier than that -- during an early-round match the first or second year that the Open was held at its current Flushing Meadows location. That timeline would place it in 1978 or 1979 -- which seems more likely, given that the term “tennis bracelet” appears in newspaper ads as early as July 1986.

In any event, as a result of the high-profile wardrobe malfunction, people began to refer to that style of wrist candy -- then called an eternity bracelet -- as a “tennis bracelet.” By the 1987 holiday season, retailers were reporting brisk sales of the accessory. The bracelet remained at the height of its popularity, a go-to gift for anniversaries and graduations, for most of the '90s.

Given the current economy, who couldn't hope for a similar swing at economic stimulus this time around too?

Meanwhile for amateur players who are inspired by the summer's big Grand Slam tournaments -- the French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open -- there are some new answers to the age-old question, "what to wear on the court." Writer Laurie Drake profiles four tenniswear designers who are offering high-performance, high-style garb for women that's a little different than what you'd find at a big box sporting goods store.

Ace!

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-- Adam Tschorn 

Photo: Danish company Pure Lime makes tennis wear in fashion-forward colors and styles. Credit: Pure Lime.

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