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The History of Cheerleading Apparel

The History of Cheerleading Apparel

Cheerleading as a sport has been around for decades, spanning well over a century. Transitioning over the years from an all-male cheer sport to a now predominantly female sport, and from sideline shouting squads to today’s glam competition teams, cheerleading has come a long way over the years. During this transition, cheerleading apparel has drastically changed from sweaters and long dresses to the current short styles of today’s cheerleaders.

A look at cheerleading uniforms over the years shows a clear and drastic change in how these uniforms have been reinvented and reshaped to reflect the changes in fashion trends of the decade, adoption of the American Culture as well as the athleticism required in the pretty progressive sport. Here’s a look at the history of cheerleading apparel.  

Cheerleading Uniforms in the Early 1900s

Throughout the early 1900s, cheerleading uniforms often represented their school as well as the fashion sense of the times. Cheerleaders, both male and female typically wore a large sweater, which had their school’s name emblazoned on the front. If they were a high school, the letters “H” and “S” often appeared in smaller letters just below the school’s name. When the weather was a bit warmer, they would wear polo shirts instead of the heavier sweaters.

Considering that cheerleading involves performing various rhythmic and athletic movements, combined with constant cheering, these sweaters were a hindrance to overall cheerleading performance and functionality. For women, they wore an additional ankle-length wool skirt that was normally darker than the sweater, matched with flat canvas sneakers or saddle shoes with dress socks to complete the look.

This general style of cheerleading apparel remained relatively the same for several decades, largely due to the limited types of clothing fabrics available and the fashion trends of the times. Unlike those days, today, cheerleading uniforms now reflect the athleticism of the sport, while keeping the glam, according to an article on the evolution of cheerleading uniforms.

How the First Cheer Camp in 1948 Changed Everything

In 1948, Lawrence Herkimer, a former SMU cheerleader, created the first cheer camp, which was a huge turning point in the world of cheerleading apparel. Considering that cheer camp is the best platform for aspiring and current cheerleaders to go and learn new skills and perfect their stunts and moves, which were quickly evolving and becoming more complex, the cheerleading uniforms worn at the camp needed to be more functional and comfortable.

The first cheer camp in 1948 pretty much changed everything in cheerleading apparel. It formed the basis for clothing ideas and innovation to make uniforms more ideal to allow a full range of motion. The collared shirts, sweaters and long khaki-like shorts of the 1900s were quickly replaced by more lightweight tank tops and Soffe knit shorts. As cheerleading continued to become more popular, the need to show support, unity and spirit resulted in matching apparel.

With time, tanks and shorts became available in a few colors, then as the number of cheerleading squads grew, the design and color options also expanded. Cheerleading teams started customizing their own uniforms by embroidering or printing their mascot or school’s name on them. Cheerleading camps had by then become more popular and begun planning annual events for squads. Different companies were now designing their own cheerleading uniforms, accessories and practice wear.  

Cheerleaders on the Spotlight in 1982

With the needs of cheerleading as an activity growing, combined with its popularity in various sports, the television industry showed an interest in broadcasting cheerleading activities. In 1982, the very first cheerleading competition on television was broadcast by ESPN. This put cheerleaders in the spotlight. From that first broadcast, the popularity of cheerleading as a sport took off, leading to drastic changes in apparel expression.  

Cheer-specific phrases and bright-colored apparel become the norm as cheerleaders looked for more ways to stand out, while showing off their outgoing creativity and personality. This also meant that more people were interested in cheerleading activities, and this ultimately drove the apparel industry. Cheerleading is indeed a lovely sport to watch, but it’s definitely not for everyone. There are a few things you should know before you think of becoming a cheerleader.

Cheerleader Apparel is No Longer Just for Cheerleaders

Cheerleading apparel companies are no longer just targeting cheerleaders. From parents to coaches, and even sports fans, there is a growing interest in cheerleader apparel for those that support them and bring them to the games, competitions and practice. Families, communities and even relatives want to show their support and love too. As a result, there is now a complete line of cheerleader support wear just for them and customized options for your cheer team.

Such apparel, include polo shirts, sweaters, hats, t-shirts, bags and anything else that the cheer industry can think of. In addition, cheerleaders and their fans also wear collections that show their support for their favorite cheerleading celebrity and all-star cheerleading teams. The changes in cheerleader apparel over the years shows tremendous improvement in uniform design, flexibility, fitting, comfort, functionality and accessibility.

Dressing for All-Season Cheerleading Activities 

Despite the fact that cheerleading activities happen all year, there’s little change in how today’s cheerleading uniforms look like. Today’s cheerleading apparels are mainly made from a blend of polyester-spandex fabric, and skirts are typically no longer than 12-14 inches to ensure tumbling safety. This means dressing for all season cheerleading activities is pretty similar. Outfits reflect the need to jump, dance and perform complex maneuvers.

Cheerleading apparel for professional and college teams are generally unregulated. However, the National Federation of High Schools requires that high school cheerleading uniform tops cover the midriff when arms are at the sides. Tops are usually waist-length and cover the upper back of the body as well as the entire upper front, except for the arms and shoulders, in the case of sleeveless shirts. All-star professional teams have a set of different rules.

Cheerleading Apparel Today and Tomorrow 

Based on the long history of cheerleading apparel, today’s cheerleading apparels are a far cry from where they initially began. With national cheerleading competitions and the popularity of cheerleading activities, the future of cheerleading apparel will certainly be brighter, with even more advanced clothing fabrics that coincide with the fashion and sporting trends of the day.

About The Author

Ashley Lipman

Ashley is a super-connector who helps businesses find their audience online through outreach, partnerships, and networking. She frequently writes about the latest advancements in digital marketing and focuses her efforts on developing customized blogger outreach plans depending on the industry and competition.

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