By: Bailey Massey
Edited By: Kylie Augis
It's no secret that women have long been held to different standards when it comes to their wardrobe. This is just as true in the world of sports, and female athlete’s uniforms have certainly come a long way since the early days. Despite this, there still remains a level of modesty and class expected of female athletes that men aren’t held to. In this article, I’ll be highlighting 5 different female athletes throughout history who pushed the boundaries of sexist uniforms and helped shape the uniforms we know today.
1. Florence Griffith Joyner
Showcased above is Florence Griffith Joyner, aka “Flo-Jo,” wearing a one-legged tracksuit. While other competitors usually tied up their hair and stuck to the standard track and field uniform of a shirt and short bottoms, Joyner rocked long hair and nails alongside her signature suit. Her outfits and accessories made her a trailblazer, with Black women following in her footsteps on and off the track by using their fashion choices to showcase their individuality. She was such an icon that she eventually ended up with her own Barbie.
2. Serena Williams
Serena Williams has never been known to care what other people think about her. That applies to her fashion choices just as much as it does to her personal life. The above photo isn’t the only example of Williams pushing uniform boundaries, but is arguably the most iconic one. She sported a black catsuit to the French Open in 2018 due to her concern about blood clots after having developed one following the birth of her daughter Alexis in 2017. She went on to reveal that this blood clot had almost claimed her life. After wearing the catsuit, the president of the French Tennis Federation said the outfit “wouldn’t be back.” It “went too far,” he continued. It didn’t “respect the game and the place.” And before you ask, no, this isn’t the first time a female tennis player wore a suit like this. Many believe she was chastised as harshly as she was because her body type is more muscular and curvier than the “typical” tennis player, and this suit accentuated that. How did Williams respond to all the hate she received? She wore a tutu to her next match.
3. Norwegian Beach Handball Team
Back in 2021, the Norwegian Beach Handball team protested sexist uniforms by wearing shorts instead of the standard bikini bottoms. The Disciplinary Committee of the European Handball Federation (EHF) fined the Norway team 1,500 euros ($1,768), or 150 euros per player, for "improper clothing" after they wore shorts in their loss to Spain at the European Beach Handball Championship. Ahead of the tournament, Norway asked the EHF for permission to play in shorts, but were told that breaches of the rules were punishable by fines. They complied, until their last match. Singer P!nk expressed her support for the team and this decision, and offered to pay the fine for them.
4. German Olympic Gymnastics Team
Back in 2021, the German gymnastics team traded standard bikini-cut leotards for full-body unitards during an Olympics qualifying round. This was done in an effort to prevent the sexualization of their bodies and the sport, and to just feel comfortable while competing. Following this, the German federation issued a statement after its gymnasts' appearance at the European Championships, explaining the decision to not wear more commonly used leotards was a choice among their athletes to take a stance against sexualization in gymnastics. While there was widespread support for the team upon making this bold statement, many argue that it is Muslim athletes who've been disqualified for their body-covering outfits in the past that have paved the way for the German team. Regardless, this was certainly a massive step in the right direction in terms of achieving a more comfortable and less sexualized uniform standard for gymnasts nationwide.
5. Billie Jean King
Perhaps one of the earliest examples of female athletes pushing boundaries is the infamous Billie Jean King. Back in the 1950s, when King was 11 years old, she wore shorts that her mom made to an amateur tennis tournament. What was considered “appropriate” at the time was a tennis skirt. King couldn't afford a tennis dress, and therefore had to forego the traditional outfit. As a result, she was excluded from a group shot with the other athletes because her attire was considered "inappropriate." What may seem like a minuscule event actually deeply affected King and put her on a path to fight for women's equality in tennis, while also putting her own mark on female tennis outfits.
To Sum it Up
While full equality has not yet been achieved for female athletes, we inch closer and closer all the time. These women are just a small group of dozens of athletes who have advocated for less sexualized attire amongst other equalities, such as pay and rules. While they may not be the very first, nor the last, these women have publicly stood up for what they believe in and unapologetically defied the rules. By doing so, they all helped create a more lax uniform standard in one way or another. And, their advocacy will continue to inspire more female athletes in many generations to come.