Tobe Frank: Changing sports uniforms – from practically naked to super tight

The first Olympians competed stark naked.

Thankfully modern day Olympians do not.

Somewhere along the way these god-like athletes came to realise they were able to run faster, throw further, jump longer and swim like a fish if their, shall we say, javelins and shot puts were tucked away behind a loin cloth.

Over the centuries, sporting outfits continued to evolve. Take tennis for example…I’m sure you’ve seen the images of tennis ladies from yesteryear dressed in ankle length skirts, puffy blouses with sleeves down to the wrists and wide brimmed hats complete with floral adornments. These days the ladies aren’t wearing much at all. In fact I reckon ball boys were invented in response to skirts becoming so short that players started showing their whoops-a-daisies when bending down to pick up a ball.

Vintage Pictures of Ladies Posing with Tennis Racquets (8)

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And the men. The male tennis player went from wearing his all-whites (looking like he’d come straight from the cricket pitch) to wearing mismatching board shorts and t-shirt. Black, blue, fluoro green and orange, whatever their hearts desire. The combination on Stan Wawrinka at last months’ French Open was a prime example – a broad striped shirt of off white, grey and charcoal with red piping accompanying (although not colour coordinating) shorts with a diagonal check. Honestly, I’ve seen better outfits on a hobo.

The swimmers weren’t immune either. Funnily enough though, they’ve almost come full circle…it’s just a little tighter. The original cossie cut off just below the knee in a bloomers type fashion. They were loose fitting and wouldn’t have been too aerodynamic in the water. Sure, we had a phase somewhere around the mid 1900s where swimmers swam in a simple one-piece or budgie smuggler, but alas the full length super-suit (as it is now known) made a comeback and apparently the latest version takes 40 minutes to get into, it’s that tight.

It doesn’t stop there either. AFL footballers use to be kitted out in woollen jumpers…100% pure merino…nowadays it’s 100% rocket science. There’s so much technology built into the jersey nowadays it may as well be a rocket. It has to be able to breath, keep warm, dry quickly, cast a neon light on key sponsorship positions, whilst being able to nurse a broken arm and stop a bloody nose. Don’t get me started on the shorts…let’s just leave it at Warwick Capper…’nough said.

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Rugby jumpers went from loose fitting ¾ length Canterbury jerseys to synthetic shirts that are designed to highlight every ab, pec, bicep and any other ripped muscle you care to mention. They are SO tight they may as well be painted on.

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Sprinters are wearing human-sized condoms.

American footballers now have more padding than a room in an insane asylum.

Beach volley-ballers? Not sure if they wear much at all in fact. Pretty sure it didn’t start out that way though.

Obviously the changes have been in response to technological advancements and sometimes due to the requirement to fulfil sponsorship obligations. In fact many uniforms these days are like Nascars…a exoskeleton that prostitutes itself to any Tom, Dick or Harry who’ll give them $5. At least when tobacco companies could sponsor they’d take the whole god-damn thing!

I’m sure the uniform of the future will be a holographic display controlled by some dude in an armchair. But for now we’ll have to be content with life-sucking skin tight Lycra.


What has been your favourite sporting look over the years?