Uniforms: Then and Now

Skill does not determine what athletes wear to play, but nevertheless, uniforms are a crucial component to how athletes are identified and perceived, both by others in competition and by spectators. Changes in fashion and cultural standards often are reflected in the uniforms of a time period, so it is no surprise that modern sports uniforms are vastly different from their predecessors a century ago.

Some sports have come farther than others since the turn of the century, but even within a given sport there is often discrepancy in standard uniform depending on level of play. For example, while softball uniforms and baseball uniforms today are fairly similar, youth leagues will often still wear shorts or tank tops, and the pants are often shorter and tighter.

Basketball uniforms are much closer to men’s today as well, though again often with tighter shirts and shorter shorts than the men’s equivalent.

Field hockey uniforms are one of the few sports that have retained skirts at all levels, including professional and Olympic. These skirts are made of stretchy materials and often have attached shorts or spandex underneath, but serve no real practical purpose.

Opportunities to play football are extremely limited at all levels for athletes who do not identify as men, and the women are rarely associated with football beyond cheerleading. Nevertheless, there have been several notable women football players at the high school and college level who have achieved success with their respective programs.

Early soccer uniforms resemble other sports attire of the late 19th century, with the practical addition of shin guards. Note that the women in the photo from 1895 also have the option of wearing a skirt uniform or pants; this was not frequently an option at the time, as the idea of women in pants at all frequently was met with backlash.

Tennis is one of the oldest sports that was accessible to women, partially due to the fact that everyday wear did not need much (or any) modification to accommodate the more sedate play of the 19th century. Today, tennis is known for its strict uniform requirements at international tournaments for athletes of both genders, and is again one of the few sports that has retained a skirt in standard uniform.