Made famous by St Trinian's, these days you'll only see this item of uniform in top-shelf magazines, or tabloid headlines
Is this a decent subject?
Calm down. Let's start with a boring definition: "A girl's tunic or pinafore dress that is worn, usually with a belt, as part of a school uniform."(Longman's Concise English dictionary) When did they appear?
The Oxford English Dictionary credits the Cambridge Daily News, September 25, 1930, with the first reference in print in the unhealthy line "gymslips should not be washed".
Why are they a part of the British psyche?
Ronald Searle, creator of St Trinian's, could be blamed. His 1950s' cartoons of gymslipped, black-stockinged, delinquent public schoolgirls inspired four films (which he thought were "crass"). They've fuelled male fantasies ever since.
Who wore them?
Schoolgirls from the 1930s to the 60s. Author Barbara Taylor Bradford, now in her 50s, recalls reading Wuthering Heights at 14 "in my gymslip and panama hat".
Who wears them now?
Not British girls, it seems. Harrods' schoolwear department doesn't stock them; John Lewis calls them "tunics". But they are widespread in Britain's former colonies. Last June the Guardian pictured girls in Sierra Leone wearing royal-blue versions.
The Sun has spotted Posh Spice in a "gymslip mini-skirt"; nd Hugh Grant recalled Liz Hurley had an "exciting phase" of wearing a gymslip and tie.
An endangered species?
Unlikely: as long as they can be found in top-shelf magazines; sex shops; on the Web; and, of course, in newspapers with headlines such as: "Should I worry about my hubby's gymslip fantasy?" (agony column, the People, July 1999) The word is also unlikely to disappear until the demise of "gymslip mums" in real life and soaps - Coronation Street still has a plot-line about one. And how else would the tabloids describe pregnant teenagers?
The word has also come in useful for pop stars such as Britney Spears, who has "inspired a generation of gymslip divas", said the Daily Mail.
Exclusive Swiss boarding school Aiglon College, was branded "a seething den of gymslip lust" by the News of the World last May.
And where would the Sun be without headlines like this one of October 7, 2000: "Gymslip girls say knickers to PE"?
1900s Probably evolved from tunics worn for games - immortalised in the "jolly hockey stick" novels of Angela Brazil.
1940s Ronald Searle creates St Trinian's girls with their short skirts, stockings and bad behaviour.
1954 Belles of St Trinian's released starring Alistair Sim, Joyce Grenfell.
1970s Gradual demise of the garment, along with school uniforms