The introduction of the gymslip as female athletic wear is credited to Martina Österberg, a founder of a college for training female physical education teachers in Hampstead. Gymslips were also worn by female gymnasts and athletes from the 1880s to the 1920s, as they were more mobile than traditional female attire, but still modest enough to deter the possibility of them becoming sexualised during their activity. Even in this modest attire, gymslips as athletic wear were still worn strictly out of public view.
When not worn as athletic wear, gymslips or pinafore dresses are generally worn over a blouse and tie and replace a skirt. Underneath a gymslip, a pair of white knee socks are more common than a pair of tights, matching regulation knickers may also be mandatory. A blazer may be worn over the top. First emerging in the 1900s, by the 1920s it had become compulsory in many private, convent and high schools, and thus became commonly worn by girls in Britain as part of their school uniform.
Although now largely replaced by modern-style uniforms, gymslips are still synonymous with schoolgirls, leading to the slang term "gymslip mum" to describe a teenage pregnancy in Britain. Well-known modern depictions of gymslips include the St. Trinians films, and less traditionally, schoolgirl uniform pornography, a use given more public recognition when in 1991 politician Clare Short condemned the fetish, saying "the Page 3 girl in a gymslip may be over 16, but the imagery is clearly intended to present schoolgirls as sexual objects".