What Did Gymnasts Wear Before Spandex Was Invented?

Gymnastics, an ancient sport that combines agility, strength, and grace, has evolved significantly over centuries. As gymnastics routines became more intricate and gymnasts pushed the boundaries of human capabilities, the need for suitable attire became paramount. However, before the advent of spandex, gymnasts relied on different materials and styles to meet their clothing requirements. These early gymnastic wardrobes were often driven by practicality, safety, and ease of movement, aiming to provide adequate coverage while allowing gymnasts to perform daring acrobatics and awe-inspiring routines.

When Were Ballet Leotards Invented?

It wasnt until the 20th century, around the 1920s, that ballet dancers started to incorporate leotards into their costumes. This shift occurred as a response to the evolving trends in ballet choreography, which demanded greater freedom of movement. Ballet leotards were initially designed to be form-fitting and made of lightweight materials such as silk or satin.

Different variations emerged, such as the scoop neck, V-neck, or high-neck leotards, catering to the diverse needs and preferences of dancers. More recently, leotards have incorporated innovative features like unique cutouts, mesh panels, and decorative elements, further enhancing their visual appeal.

Today, ballet dancers across the globe continue to don leotards as an essential part of their dance attire. They serve not only as a functional garment but also as a symbol of elegance and discipline. Leotards have become synonymous with ballet, representing the grace and beauty associated with one of the oldest and most esteemed forms of dance. Their enduring presence in the world of ballet is a testament to their practicality, versatility, and timeless allure.

With that in mind, it’s important for gymnasts to maintain a sleek and polished appearance when performing. However, the debate on wearing pants under leotards has sparked discussions and differing opinions among gymnasts and coaches.

Do Gymnasts Wear Pants Under Their Leotards?

Most gymnasts prefer to forgo underwear when wearing leotards to ensure a sleek and seamless appearance. Leotards are designed to fit tightly on the body, allowing gymnasts to move freely and perform their routines without any hindrances. Wearing underwear could create visible lines and bulges, which may cost them points in a competitive setting.

However, it’s important to note that decisions regarding underwear are ultimately left to the individual gymnasts preference. Some gymnasts may feel more comfortable wearing certain types of underwear, particularly during training or practice sessions. In such cases, they may opt for seamless, moisture-wicking underwear that provides minimal visibility and maximum comfort.

How Do Gymnasts Choose the Right Leotard Size?

Gymnasts choose the right leotard size by considering their measurements and comparing them to the sizing charts provided by the manufacturer. They take into account factors such as chest, waist, hip, and torso length to determine the most suitable fit. It’s important to ensure a snug yet comfortable fit to allow for freedom of movement and avoid any potential distractions during performance.

Now, let’s look at the different types of leotards used in gymnastics and what they’re called.

What Are Gymnastics Leotards Called?

Gymnastics leotards, popularly known as leos, are essential apparel worn by gymnasts during their performances and competitions. These sleek and form-fitting suits are made specifically to provide freedom of movement while showcasing artistic style. However, leotards with attached shorts or pants are referred to as biketards or unitards, offering a bit more coverage and diversity in style.

In some gyms, female gymnasts have the option to wear tight T-shirts or tank tops along with sports shorts over their leotards during practice sessions. This allows them to feel more comfortable while still maintaining the necessary flexibility and range of motion required for their routines.

On the other hand, boys leotards have a different name. They’re commonly referred to as singlets, providing a snug fit to enhance the gymnasts physique and streamline their movements. These singlets, much like their female counterparts, are designed to facilitate unrestricted activity and allow for impressive displays of strength and skill.

Whether it’s a traditional leotard, a biketard, a unitard, or a singlet, these garments play a crucial role in the gymnastics world. They not only enable gymnasts to execute their routines with precision and grace but also serve as a visual representation of their dedication, talent, and passion for the sport.

Dancers have adopted a new trend of wearing tights over their leotards, particularly black ones, to create an illusion of longer legs and a shorter torso. This fashionable choice also prevents the leotard leg elastic from wearing out quickly.

Why Do Dancers Wear Tights Over Their Leotards?

Dancers wear tights over their leotards for a variety of reasons, but one of the primary reasons is aesthetics. Tights can help to create a visually appealing and elongated line in the dancers body. This can enhance the overall look of their performance and make their movements appear more elegant and graceful.

The tight fabric molds to the body, making the hips appear larger and adding a hint of sensuality to the dancers movements. This can be particularly important in certain styles of dance where showcasing the bodys curves is desired.

Practicality also plays a role in the decision to wear tights over leotards. The elastic at the leg openings of leotards can be delicate and easily damaged, especially through repeated use.

They provide a layer of warmth and can help to keep the muscles warm, which is essential for preventing injuries and maintaining flexibility during intense training or performances. Tights can also provide compression, helping to improve blood circulation and reduce muscle fatigue.

It’s become a traditional and iconic look that adds to the overall visual appeal of the art form.

It enhances the dancers appearance, protects the leotards elastic, provides support and comfort, and adds to the artistic tradition of dance.


From the modest clothing of ancient Greek athletes to the functional yet restrictive outfits of early 20th-century gymnasts, the constant pursuit of optimal performance remained at the forefront. These brave athletes embraced the challenges presented by their garments, exemplifying the dedication and passion that define gymnastics as a sport. While spandex revolutionized the industry and brought about greater flexibility and comfort, it’s essential to recognize the resilience and tenacity of gymnasts who pushed boundaries even without this innovative fabric. Their pioneering spirit and commitment to their craft continue to inspire generations of gymnasts today.