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Olympic Attire Through the Ages

The modern Olympic games, under the auspices of Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s International Olympic Charter (which still governs the games today) began in 1896. The first Olympics featured 241 athletes from 14 nations who competed in 43 different events. The estimated participation for the upcoming 2012 summer Olympics is 10,500 athletes from 204 countries set to compete in 302 events! As you’d expect, a lot has changed about the games since 1986: Women are now allowed to participate (much to de Coubertin’s chagrin), professional athletes can compete, and, hoo-boy have Olympic fashions changed! Click on to see a sampling of competitors’ attire over throughout the years.
Tags: 
Hockey
London Olympics
Charlotte Cooper
Elena Dementieva
Anna Hübler
Katarina Witt
Olympics 1912
Janet Evans
2010 Vancouver Olympics

Elena Dementieva

During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, gold medal tennis champion Elena Dementieva wore decidedly less than Charlotte Cooper did 108 years before. Dementieva, and other tennis pros, now dress in clothes tailored to enhance their strength and athleticism, rather than maintaining societal standards of female propriety, as they did in the early part of the last century. However, most women still compete in tiny tennis skirts as opposed to just shorts like the men, so we haven’t completely left the old days behind. Photo credit: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images via ESPN

London Olympics

Nowadays, hockey players take the ice dressed for maximum comfort, speed, and protection. Sweaters are made from lightweight synthetic fabrics intended to wick away sweat and ergonomically fitted to players’ bodies. Padding is worn underneath jerseys and all players (and officials) are required to wear helmets. Goaltenders are even allowed to have customized decorative paint jobs on their masks. Photo credits: Chris O’Meara, The Associated Press (L) and www.thetimesherald.com ®

Charlotte Cooper

Despite being barred from the first Olympics in 1896, women were allowed to participate in a few events (golf, lawn tennis, and yachting) starting in 1900. The first female Olympic medalist was Charlotte Cooper, a British tennis player. When she competed she wore a full-length skirt, long-sleeved button-up shirt and tie, and high-heeled, pointed-toe shoes! At the time it would have seemed improper for a woman to wear less, but it’s pretty amazing anyone could play a sport in that get-up! Photo credit: Public domain

Elena Dementieva

During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, gold medal tennis champion Elena Dementieva wore decidedly less than Charlotte Cooper did 108 years before. Dementieva, and other tennis pros, now dress in clothes tailored to enhance their strength and athleticism, rather than maintaining societal standards of female propriety, as they did in the early part of the last century. However, most women still compete in tiny tennis skirts as opposed to just shorts like the men, so we haven’t completely left the old days behind. Photo credit: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images via ESPN

Anna Hübler

Figure skating was introduced as an Olympic sport in 1908 and German pairs skater Anna Hübler wore clothes very similar to Charlotte Cooper’s tennis outfit eight years prior. She sported an ankle-length skirt, collared blouse, and a hat alongside her partner Heinrich Burger. As the sport progressed and more emphasis was placed on complicated spinning and jumping, skirts got shorter. But, outfits like the one US gold medalist Tenley Albright wore in 1965, were still very “everyday,” in that they included a cardigan and scarf—which made sense for the outdoor setting. Photo credits: Public domain (L) and IOC / Olympic Museum Collections ®

Katarina Witt

In 1988, West German figure skater Katarina Witt found herself embroiled in what has probably been the most controversial fashion moment in Olympic history. The sport was accustomed to women figure skaters wearing short, but demure, skirts that fully covered their backsides. Witt’s costume for her short program was skirt-less, instead featuring blue feathers that only half-concealed her butt. After much pearl-clutching from the International Skating Union, the organization changed its guidelines, requiring women skaters to wear skirts that “cover[ed] the hips and posterior.” However, the “Katarina rule,” as it was jokingly called, was repealed in 2004 allowing women skaters greater freedom to wear tights, pants, or unitards instead of skirts. Nowadays it’s not uncommon for figure skaters to wear costumes designed by high-fashion designers like Donna Karan and Vera Wang. Photo credit: Getty Images via http://www.daylife.com/

Olympics 1912

Women’s swimming was first held during the 1912 Olympic games in Stockholm, Sweden. While ordinary women’s beach wear was much more conservative (commonly consisting of knee-length skirts), the first female swimming competitors wore rather risqué outfits for the time. Australian medalist Fanny Durack wore a tight sleeveless mid-thigh-length suit while her teammate Wilhelmina Wylie rocked a short-sleeved slightly transparent (whoa!) one-piece suit. Photo credit: Public domain

Janet Evans

While the years since 1912 saw women’s swimsuits become far more revealing (as you can see in the picture of gold medalist Janet Evans, above left, in 1992), these days competitive suits look very similar to the way they did in the early part of the 20th century. But don’t let the olde tyme look fool you—the polyurethane outfits are high-tech and allow swimmers to move through the water at faster speeds than ever before, which has recently lead to a large number of new world speed records. The controversial new outfits are opposed by several prominent swimmers, including Michael Phelps, who wore a non-polyurethane version when he won eight gold medals in 2008. Since then, FINA, the governing body of competitive swimming, has instituted various regulations regarding suits’ lengths and materials in order to not give swimmers who choose to wear them (and who can afford the $500-$800 price tags) unfair advantages. Photo credits: AP/Getty via CNN and http://www.swimcoachtools.com.

2010 Vancouver Olympics

No discussion of Olympic fashion could be complete without a look at the Norwegian men’s curling team and their famous patterned pants. The series of boldly printed trousers (from the brand Loudmouth Golf) captured the imagination of many viewers during the 2010 games in Vancouver. And, while they lost the gold medal to Canada, the Norwegians were the big winners in our hearts. The pants even have their own Facebook fan page, which has been liked by nearly 600,000 people! Photo credit: Jeff Franko, Gannett

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