Throughout history, women have not been encouraged to participate in sports nearly as much as men have. It all started to change in the past 100 years, but it’s important to take a look at how we got here and all the ways the sports – and the clothing we wear while performing it, changed over the years to give us what we have today. This will not only help us understand how we got here, but will also show us what to look for in the future, because the adaptations we made a hundred years ago, just like the ones we are making today, all serve a few basic purposes.
For a very long time, women were told they have to cover up and not show too much skin, even if it meant impairing their ability to perform, or even putting their lives at risk. This is easiest to see with the example of swimming, where women were made to wear thick, long dresses into the water. There are famous photographs of women being made to cover up if they showed too much skin or even be exposed to having the length of their dress measured in front of everyone. Not only was this impractical, but it was also dangerous, as the thick fabrics weighed the women down and increased the risk of drowning. This started to change after the first World War, as breakthroughs were made in both fashion, science and women’s rights.
Spandex was invented in 1959 and really was the turning point in sports fashion, all the way up to a few years ago when smart materials were developed. Spandex was the first fabric stretchy enough to be able to really stretch, meaning the garments didn’t have to be loose and oversized to allow for the range of movement. This allowed for more fitted garments that not only significantly improves performance, but also were comfortable beyond belief.
Developments, of course, weren’t only made in the comfort and performance department, they’re also shown in the fashion and aesthetic of the sport. Williams wearing a black and red lacy dress at the French Open caused a lot of controversy, but also opened up an important dialogue about the right to choose what you want to perform in. While we still have tricky situations, even communities that focus on “traditional” aesthetics, such as competitive ballroom dancing, are showing progress and won’t necessarily penalize you for having beautiful Japanese tattoos exposed on your body. So, should how you look be important when judging your performance, or should you wear whatever makes you feel the best and allows you to perform to your highest standard? We should all be able to wear whatever we want, but it seems that no matter what era we’re in, women are judged on their looks, and since sports are very much judged by humans, it’s basically impossible to not allow what you think about a person’s appearance to influence your score one way or another. Fortunately, times seem to be changing for the better.
In recent years, as we fixed some of the problems, new ones started popping up. Surprisingly, it was once again policing what women can and cannot wear, because as some sports started demanding certain uniforms, women had an issue with that. Most notably, not every woman is comfortable playing volleyball in nothing but a bikini (which is the obligatory uniform for many teams). But on top of that, as women all around the world started acquiring the right to participate in sports, there has been a question posed about whether or not they should be allowed to wear “special” equipment that signifies their religion or beliefs, citing worry of head and neck injury. Thankfully, this was resolved in 2014 when FIFA allowed soccer players to wear head coverings, including hijabs, sporty versions of which are now produced by the biggest sporting equipment manufacturers such as Nike.
Let’s talk about what the future brings. As we said, every iteration has been an improvement on comfort, fashion or inclusivity, and that’s where we’re still heading. Firstly, as far as comfort and performance go, we are talking about smart materials and wearable tech. Imagine clothing that automatically measures and regulates your body temperature, controls muscle vibration during long workouts and measure your heart rate. Well, pretty soon you won’t have to imagine it, because we are already seeing tech like that being developed. On the other hand, we’re working on fashion, and more importantly, customization, which will bring more options for you to determine what you want to work out in.
Everyone knows that in spite of having fantastic results, often matching and surpassing the male teams, women’s sports are still thought of as less important and consequently are given less attention. But if that got you feeling down, I have good news: there’s a way to help that is easier than anything you ever did before: just talk about it. Mention women in sports, share news about them and keep lifting them up, and we’ll be equal in no time!
Diana Smith is a full time mom of two beautiful girls interested in topics related to home improvement, DIY and interior design. In her free time she enjoys reading and preparing healthy meals for her family.