How I achieved my ambition to dress as a Wimbledon ballgirl 20 years too late

Lauren Cochrane training to be a ballgirl.

Lauren Cochrane training to be a ballgirl. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

My ambitions as a child were largely based on professional outfits. At various points, I wanted to be a ballerina (the tutu), footballer (the socks) and a socialite from the 1920s (the sequins, the headband). And, thanks to the neat polo shirt, pleated skirt and crouching tiger stance, despite having not even a passing interest in tennis, I always wanted to be a ballgirl.

Twenty years too late, my ambition is being fulfilled. I am in the bowels of Wimbledon’s training facilities on the fringes of a ballgirl and ballboy training session. I’m with 50 or so teenagers, and we are being put our paces by two fierce coaches. We submit to lunges, pivots, balancing exercises and, possibly the hardest of all, staring into space for two minutes, motionless. The scent of focus, rather than Lynx, is everywhere in this room despite the fact that it is mostly occupied by teenagers from the schools in the surrounding area. Some of them have been training since November, all in a bid to be picked as one of the lucky 250 to serve at the Wimbledon championships this month.

The trainees going through their paces.
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The trainees going through their paces. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

It’s safe to say I am in the “no” pile. But I look the part. While the actual ballgirls and boys will only collect their uniforms after the session, I’m already wearing the navy polo shirt and skirt or – to be accurate – skort. These come with cycling shorts inside to avoid the wearers worrying about flashing their pants. It’s all designed by Ralph Lauren, who has been making the kits for 10 years, and has the brand’s horse logo along with the Wimbledon one on the sleeve. It’s smart but sporty, preppy but English. That feels right for Wimbledon, a sporting event that still seems tied up with ideas of decorum.

The outfit, says ballgirl and ballboy manager Sarah Goldson, comes with quite a lot of rules and regulations. “Hair is tied back, there’s no jewellery and no makeup, double-bow shoes, tucked in T-shirts for boys,” she says. Worse than school, basically, but, unlike school uniform, these are clothes teenagers are clamouring to wear. “You feel proud when you wear it,” says Laura Sallabank, 15, who is going to a ballgirl for the second time this summer. “It’s a badge of honour.” Goldson says there are, however, things that she’ll always have to pick her teenage charges up for. “We do have to tell them how it is worn,” she says. “Mainly, it’s the boys – they have to have the shorts at the waist, not any lower.” Wimbledon and street fashion remain formidable opponents, it seems.

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Tennis | The Guardian

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