Over the past century, cheerleading uniforms have dramatically been reshaped and reinvented to reflect the changes in American culture, fashion trends of the decades and the athleticism required in the progressive sport.
19th Century – 1930s
Cheerleading first began at the prestigious boys only college, Princeton University. At that time, cheerleading was recognized only as a pep club. Uniforms consisted of matching collared shirts (long sleeves or short sleeves), slacks and belt. Depending on the weather, they would sometimes sport turtle necks and a sweater. The most important aspect to the cheerleading uniform at this time was the megaphone which helped organize the crowd to cheer in sync.
More and more women became an active aspect to the pep clubs in the 1940′s, changing the dynamic of the cheerleading uniform. The men’s uniform did not have much evolution and the women’s uniforms reflected the style of that time. Because there was not much movement involved, they wore long wool skirts, collared shirts and cardigans.
The 1950s became revolutionary for the cheerleading uniform due to cheerleading becoming popular on all campuses. The uniforms resembled more of a team look. Everyone wore matching long sleeve shirts with sporty stripes on the sleeves, tackle twill with the school’s letters and a megaphone. The captain’s “stature” was often evident because their uniform would be slightly different in the school color combinations and the tackle twill on their tops. Men wore pants with one stripe to three stripes running vertically down the outer side of the leg. Women’s skirts were still of wool material, but became slightly shorter, still remaining below the knee.
The 1960s was another revolutionary decade for the cheerleading uniform. As cheerleaders became more active and it was socially acceptable to have shorter skirts, the cheerleading uniforms completely changed in both fabric and style. No longer wearing tucked in blouses or button up shirts, cheerleaders of this decade wore breathable cotton based shirts, sweatshirts, crew neck sweaters, pants, and skirts. The skirts were now above the knee and pleats were introduced; a trend that would remain on the cheerleading uniform for decades to come.
During the “radical” 1970s, the Dallas Cowboys’ Cheerleaders forever changed the cheerleading uniform. They introduced bare midriff tops, short shorts and white boots. After stretching social boundaries and dress code limitations, the rest of the cheerleading uniforms industry quickly followed suite. Saddle shoes or Keds were replaced with athletic tennis shoes, shell tops were introduced, patch lettering became more ornate, sweater fit became tighter, one to three pleat designs, box pleats and plaid patterns were introduced to skirts and the skirt length was chopped in half.
1980s and 1990s
Uniforms in the ’80s and ’90s weren’t very different in style than today’s cheerleading uniforms. In addition to the pleat combinations introduced in the ’70s, striped tapping was added to the sides or the bottom of the cheer skirt.
After much stagnation in the ’80s and ’90s, cheerleading is radically shaped by the debate of whether it should be considered a sport or just a sideline activity. With more extreme stunts, advanced tumbling moves and dance driven routines, uniforms are now made from spandex and polyester mixes for more flexibility in movement. A-line skirts have also been a trending look due to it having less bulk and looking modern and streamline. All Star cheerleading squads have also dramatically changed uniform details by adding metallic spandex and animal print fabrics and using color combinations in brightly colored hues that are not available in the “traditional school colors”.
The Future of Cheerleading Uniforms
Though it’s hard to tell where cheerleading uniforms are headed, one thing is for certain: cheerleading uniforms will reflect the hotly debated topic of cheerleading being recognized as an organized sport. If it’s not a sport, cheerleading uniforms will continue on its path to resemble it’s NFL counter parts. If it does become a recognized sport, regulations will be required for schools and competitions; once again changing and shifting current designs. Only time will tell on the unforeseen future of cheerleading uniforms.