Along with gold medals and podiums, a third guarantee exists at each Olympic Games: everyone has an opinion on what women are wearing. Without fail, debates on aesthetics and modesty (or lack thereof) arise as soon as the torch is lit.
Tokyo 2020 has experienced its fair share of clothing controversy, from poorly received opening ceremony looks to an entire scandal with the Norwegian women’s beach handball team. In such a historic year of Olympic Games with so many notable victories, an overarching theme of fashion is seemingly unusual. Bringing us to the timeless question of “why do women’s clothing choices matter so much?”
No clear answer has surfaced on this topic, especially in terms of sports. However, tracing back Olympic womenswear to its very beginnings offers some insight on how far we have really come. Hint: not very far.
Fashion’s relationship with figure skating is, in simple terms, a no-brainer. Professional skaters have gone on to be style icons and even designers. Though never qualifying for the Olympic team herself, Vera Wang created costumes for figure skaters in the 1992 Olympics and beyond, even during the most recent 2018 Games. Peggy Fleming, who won gold at the 1968 Olympics, was highly known for her figure skating looks. To paint a picture, she was practically Jackie O on ice.
As figure skating athletes are partially scored on their outfits, style’s importance makes sense — it’s part of the game. And not much has changed from the sport’s early days, aside from a rising hem and inclusion of cut-outs. In fact, the most noticeable shifts in figure skating fashion have far more to do with trends than anything else. Skating costumes are incredibly artistic, tending to mirror their era’s popular elements as a result.
Considering that tennis fashion has reserved its very own category in even non-athletic wardrobes, the sport’s emphasis on uniform is a given. Olympic tennis players are highly sought-after by athletic brands who know the world will be paying attention to their outfits. Every modern period of fashion has its own highly accessible “tennis look,” from the Princess Diana-esque ensemble of the ’80s to the 21st century’s Lululemon craze.
Over the years, hem-shortening has made the tennis skirt mini, and substantially more athletic. Suzanne Lenglen, known for her talent on the courts throughout the ’20s, dressed as though exercise was the least likely occurrence in her outfit. A fur cardigan, belt, and headpiece in tow. Meanwhile, modern stars such as Naomi Osaka prioritize function over form, wearing cutting-edge technical fabrics and few accessories in sight.
Now this one might surprise you. Upon first glance, 1948’s version of the gymnastics leotard has an unexpectedly modern look. Legs shown, tight fit, and arms bare. Years later, Svetlana Khorkina’s 1996 uniform actually increases coverage by adding long sleeves. Flashing forward to 2021… a full-coverage unitard worn by the entire German team?
While shifting to modesty may appear as though society’s going backwards, reality is quite the contrary. Women are fighting against the sexualization of their sport in a way that prioritizes choice. If covering their bodies affected performance in any way, gymnasts would stick with classic leotards. Simone Biles, for example, prefers to not wear a unitard, but supports others who do. The importance lies within female gymnasts’ ability to decide for themselves, especially after their treatment from officials over the past several years.
Swimming has undeniably experienced the most classic trajectory from dated to modern. For the first inclusion of women’s water sports in the Olympics, Fanny Durack competed wearing what appears to be non-waterproof clothing in 1912. Comfort was not the priority, and it appears that preventing drowning was not either. Since then, swimming has struggled with defining a proper uniform, as certain designs can technologically provide an unfair advantage.
Artistic swimming, alternatively, places far greater of an emphasis on aesthetics. Back in 1984, the sport – better known as synchronized swimming – made its Olympic debut. Over the past forty years, artistic swimming has only become more intricate in its costume design. Beautiful headpieces and bodysuits are created to look even better underwater.
Beach volleyball has one of the tiniest uniforms, only second place to men’s diving. For comfort and to match the sandy setting, players dress in bikinis that leave little up to the imagination. And while many believe that the uniform is designed for sexualization and is required for volleyball players, that notion is actually false. Rules allow the beach volleyball Olympians to wear any design of their choosing. Unlike the women’s beach handball team, who was fined for their choice of more modest uniforms in Tokyo 2020.
Indoor volleyball, however, takes a slightly more covered approach. From the sport’s first Olympic Games with women in 1964, uniforms have remained as a classic top and shorts combination. Though 2021’s version is naturally more advanced and aerodynamic.
Fundamentally, fashion matters, for better or for worse. So much can be conveyed by merely choosing a unitard instead of a leotard, or biker shorts rather than a bikini bottom. Why else has clothing been used to make statements for just about any issue across history? And aside from underlying messages, aesthetic elements play such a vital role in the seemingly anti-fashion world of sports. So instead of criticizing athletes for what they choose to wear, perhaps onlookers should examine the greater meaning behind it.END
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createdAt:Mon, 02 Aug 2021 21:20:17 +0000
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