The Women’s World Cup, a worldwide athletic sensation, has reached its semifinal stage. There have been shocks and surprises, as usual. Infrequent but yet unprecedented turnouts have occurred.
What hasn’t been prevalent, at least in comparison to previous WWCs, is white shorts.
The England squad will not be wearing any white shorts. New Zealand is a no-white-shorts zone. Canada, France, and Nigeria, all of which wore white shorts four years ago, will not be allowed to do so this time around. For the first time since the World Cup started in 1991, the United States will not be wearing white shorts as part of their home outfit.
And it’s the most recent illustration of a phenomenon sweeping women’s top sports: a backlash against decades-old uniform traditions.
Earlier this summer, the All England Club made history by allowing female contestants like Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina and the United States‘ Shelby Rogers to break the all-white norm and wear black shorts beneath their tennis whites. Each player at the EuroHockey Championship later this month will be given the freedom to choose between wearing shorts or the more customary skorts. Some track and field athletes have also begun to compete in shorts and leggings rather of the bikini-like ‘buns’ they wore in the past.
After the uproar caused by, oh, pretty much everything Serena Williams ever wore on the tennis court, including shorts over the mandated bikinis, the German Olympic gymnastics team competed in full-body unitards rather than tiny leotards, and the pole-vaulter Holly Bradshaw wore a onesie rather than a crop top and bikini to win her bronze.
After the (ongoing) campaign for wage equality in competition and in the aftermath of Title IX and the fight for equal access to sports, follows the conflict for uniform equity. That goes beyond the realm of fashion. One must make a decision.
The sports world may be the epicentre of the opposition at a time when questions of dress rules in schools, workplaces, and government buildings are at the centre of political and cultural discussion.
There have been two main paths for the development of women’s sports uniforms. One may argue that, in sports like basketball and soccer, they just used scaled-down copies of the techniques used by men. On the one hand, they were designed to be expressly feminine, such as tennis dresses, field hockey skorts, and the highly sexualized abbreviated, bathing suit-like bras and bikinis worn by track and field and beach volleyball players (Nike did not begin making women-specific World Cup kits until 2019 and did not re-engineer the W.N.B.A. jerseys until 2021).
Either they didn’t fit women properly since they were made for males or they were designed with the male gaze in mind.
After Title IX was passed in 1972, this trend was more noticeable than before. “the U.S. had the chance to show off the best female athletes in the world, in the most marketable way,” Ms. Fleshman said, in reference to the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, the first time a women’s marathon was featured in the Games. This necessitated “addressing concerns that granting women full access to sports would make them less feminine and more masculine.” The uniform’s gender-bending makeover helped ease that tension.
Despite the rapid rejection of both proposals, Ms. Fleshman’s observation that “uniform guidelines mandating exposed skin and ‘formfitting’ silhouettes for only one gender have been coded into rule books across many sports” is valid. In other cases, women have taken them on as personal markers of professionalism. If you only ever see champions wearing buns (or “runderwear”), that’s what you’ll come to believe is the norm. Winners in dresses make you believe that winners should also dress that way.