Cheerleading Uniform History

Cheerleaders have been suiting up to add spirit to the sport for more than a century. Cheering for teams has evolved from an auxiliary activity to a sport its own, participating in world-class competitions and earning awards and trophies like any other sport. The growth of cheerleading has placed demands on the look and fit of cheerleading uniforms, having gone from bulky sweaters and long pleated skirts (or trousers, in the case men - the first cheerleaders) to sleek spandex outfits to suit today's sophisticated maneuvers.

History of Cheerleading

Since the earliest days it was considered an honor to be a cheerleader and to represent the school or team he or she was cheering for, and cheerleading uniforms sought to reflect that. Team logos were proudly worn on the fronts of sweaters which, in the beginning, were baggy and hot. As fashions changed, so did cheerleading uniforms.

The sport of cheer has been dramatically modified from its beginnings. A time when a small group of men clad in baggy wool trousers, lettered cardigan sweaters, and sneakers led stands of spectators at Princeton University and later at the University of Minnesota in spirited chants. Princeton was an all-male school, so the first cheerleaders were men. It didn't become co-ed until the 1900s. Cheerleading uniforms consisted of a button-down cardigan worn over a turtleneck with the school letter or logo displayed on the front of the sweater. Later it became common for teams to embroider their school letter onto a megaphone symbol. Women joined the men n the 1920s donning long wool skirts, and sweaters over collared blouses or turtlenecks. Canvas sneakers were eventually replaced by the popular saddle shoe in the 1950s. In the private schools cheerleading outfits sought to match school uniforms, which were often plaid.

In 1948, Lawrence "Herkie" Herkimer, former cheerleader for Southern Methodist University and "Grandfather of Cheerleading", founded one of the first cheerleader uniform manufacturing companies - Cheerleader & DanzTeam. He also sold more than a million sets of paper pom-pon kits (which later became vinyl) and founded the first cheerleading camps and competitions.

As cheerleading evolved from a vocal chant into a sport it's become, cheering became more of an athletic event. In the 1960s, as routines added acrobatic stunts, cheerleading uniforms became more comfortable and active. Sweaters were less bulky. Skirts shortened to the knee, and the pleated look was in. Long cardigans were replaced by short-sleeved crew neck sweaters with the school letter or logo sewn onto the front. Often the squad's name was sewn onto the center of a school letter patch. Woolen fabrics gave way to cooler, more breathable cotton/polyester blends. Women typically wore vests or shells along with reversible pleated skirts, often alternating the school colors. Striped patterns were popular, as were rounded and v-neck sweaters in a variety of knit designs. Cheerleading uniforms were still modest but allowed a sleeker, more flattering fit. Women were no longer wearing blouses under their sweaters, which were getting tighter and were simply worn over a brassier, which allowed the belly to show during moves. Skirts got much shorter, and were worn over either biking shorts or cheerleading briefs called "spankies". While the new styles provided a comfortable, more functional fit, attitudes were slow to change and it was thought by some that cheerleading uniforms were racy and improper.

Except for the popular "slump" socks and the Keds Champion canvas sneakers, the 1980s and 1990s presented cheerleading uniforms as we know them today. Tops were often a waste-length button down sleeveless vest worn with or without the turtleneck underneath. Or a turtleneck was worn underneath a sweatshirt, but the skirt remained pleated with maybe a little striping design along the bottom. The preferred length was about at mid-thigh. The general rule was the skirt had to be down to the end of the fingers when arms were at the sides.

Cheerleading Uniforms Today and Tomorrow

Cheerleading has become a sport its own, and its outfit reflects the need to dance, jump, and perform difficult maneuvers. Today's cheerleading uniforms are typically made from a polyester-spandex blend. The skirt is generally no longer than 12 to 14 inches for tumbling safety reasons. Skirts are worn over a pair of colored, metallic or printed spandex "spankies" or "lollies" and in some cases briefs display the team name or logo on the side or across the behind, a trend begun in the 1990s. The top is form-fitting and either long sleeved or sleeveless. Most high school squad members wear a sleeveless top with a sports bra, or athletic tank top or leotard-like turtleneck bodysuit underneath.

Cheerleading uniforms for colleges and professional teams are generally unregulated, but National Federation of High Schools guidelines have it that high school uniform tops must cover the midriff when arms are at the sides. Tops are waist-length and cover the entire upper front and upper back of the body, except for the shoulders and arms in the case of sleeveless shirts. All star teams have different rulings, so some teams wear tops that extend to the bra or just below the bra. Today's uniform tops often have sections where material is cut out, exposing parts of the body across the chest or along the shoulders or the top of the back or on the arms.

Tips for Buying Cheerleading Uniforms

A uniform represents the spirit and integrity of a school, and cheerleaders will want to not only feel good about the uniform, but also comfortable wearing it. Choose a smart uniform design, one that best represents your school or organization. Some uniforms can be expensive so schools may opt to hold fundraisers or earn money by winning competitions, or go with a simpler look.

One way to save money on a cheerleading uniform and accessories is to shop Epic Sports where you can save between 20 - 40 percent on everything you need to look your best.

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