Editor's Pick

Figure Skating Fashion Through The Years

Figure skating costumes have long been the source of both admiration and ridicule. Many consider the frills and sequins to detract from the athletic aspects of the sport. Others say some of the more elegant costumes add to the artistic impact of skating at its most beautiful.

  • Sonja Henie, figure skating's first superstar, won gold medals for Norway in 1928, 1932 and 1936. She was known for introducing the short skirt to skating, although short was a relative term at the time.
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    Sonja Henie, figure skating's first superstar, won gold medals for Norway in 1928, 1932 and 1936. She was known for introducing the short skirt to skating, although short was a relative term at the time.
    AP
  • Dick Button won back-to-back gold medals for the United States in 1948 and 1952. This photo is from a practice at the 1948 Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Men at the time generally performed in tuxedo jackets and pants.
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    Dick Button won back-to-back gold medals for the United States in 1948 and 1952. This photo is from a practice at the 1948 Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Men at the time generally performed in tuxedo jackets and pants.
    AP
  • Peggy Fleming set a new standard for grace and beauty in skating, charming the world while winning gold for the U.S. at the Olympics in 1968. Dresses of Fleming's day were generally one piece and were relatively free of embellishment.
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    Peggy Fleming set a new standard for grace and beauty in skating, charming the world while winning gold for the U.S. at the Olympics in 1968. Dresses of Fleming's day were generally one piece and were relatively free of embellishment.
    AFP/Getty Images
  • Dorothy Hamill, better known for her wedge haircut than her costumes, won a gold medal for the U.S. in the 1976 Olympics. It was one of the last Olympics where costumes were still homemade. Hamill said in an interview her Olympic dress, made by a friend's mother, cost $75. This photo is from the previous year's World Championships.
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    Dorothy Hamill, better known for her wedge haircut than her costumes, won a gold medal for the U.S. in the 1976 Olympics. It was one of the last Olympics where costumes were still homemade. Hamill said in an interview her Olympic dress, made by a friend's mother, cost $75. This photo is from the previous year's World Championships.
    AP
  • Canadian figure skater Brian Orser, who won the silver at the 1988 Calgary Olympics, was half of the famed "Battle of the Brians" that year. Both he and American Brian Boitano chose military-themed costumes.
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    Canadian figure skater Brian Orser, who won the silver at the 1988 Calgary Olympics, was half of the famed "Battle of the Brians" that year. Both he and American Brian Boitano chose military-themed costumes.
    Jerome Delay/AFP/Getty Images
  • American figure skater Brian Boitano, like his Canadian rival Brian Orser, wore a military-inspired outfit for the Battle of the Brians at the Calgary Olympics in 1988. Boitano emerged with the gold; Orser, with the silver.
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    American figure skater Brian Boitano, like his Canadian rival Brian Orser, wore a military-inspired outfit for the Battle of the Brians at the Calgary Olympics in 1988. Boitano emerged with the gold; Orser, with the silver.
    Katsumi Kasahara/AP
  • Scott Hamilton wears an outfit much like the one in which he won the gold medal at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia.
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    Scott Hamilton wears an outfit much like the one in which he won the gold medal at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia.
    AP
  • Surya Bonaly of France, who skated in three Olympics but never won a medal, was a former gymnast who liked to compete in a unitard. International skating officials, however, disapproved. Today women in events sanctioned by the sport's official body must wear skirts.
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    Surya Bonaly of France, who skated in three Olympics but never won a medal, was a former gymnast who liked to compete in a unitard. International skating officials, however, disapproved. Today women in events sanctioned by the sport's official body must wear skirts.
    Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images
  • American Michelle Kwan, often considered the greatest figure skater never to have won an Olympic gold medal, had many of her costumes designed by Vera Wang. She competed in this periwinkle dress (not designed by Wang) in the 1998 Olympics.
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    American Michelle Kwan, often considered the greatest figure skater never to have won an Olympic gold medal, had many of her costumes designed by Vera Wang. She competed in this periwinkle dress (not designed by Wang) in the 1998 Olympics.
    Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images
  • Sasha Cohen of the U.S., known for her elegant skating and her elegant fashions, won the silver medal at the 2006 games in Torino, Italy. Outfits like this, by the way, cost thousands of dollars.
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    Sasha Cohen of the U.S., known for her elegant skating and her elegant fashions, won the silver medal at the 2006 games in Torino, Italy. Outfits like this, by the way, cost thousands of dollars.
    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
  • Johnny Weir of the U.S. drew flak with this outfit at the U.S. National Championships in January because the fur on his shoulders was real fox. Weir removed the fur before the Olympics. But he did point out that every single skater competing "is wearing skates made out of cow."
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    Johnny Weir of the U.S. drew flak with this outfit at the U.S. National Championships in January because the fur on his shoulders was real fox. Weir removed the fur before the Olympics. But he did point out that every single skater competing "is wearing skates made out of cow."
    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
  • Ice dancers Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia wore this allegedly Aboriginal garb for their original dance at the ISU European Figure Skating Championships in January. Critics charge it is not only culturally insensitive but inaccurate as well.
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    Ice dancers Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia wore this allegedly Aboriginal garb for their original dance at the ISU European Figure Skating Championships in January. Critics charge it is not only culturally insensitive but inaccurate as well.
    Ivan Sekretarev/AP

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Over the years, skating outfits have changed considerably, particularly for women. Sonja Henie, who won figure skating gold for Norway in 1928, 1932 and 1936, was the first to wear a "short" skirt; raising hers from ankle to knee length to make it easier to perform jumps.

But after things went a bit too far — in 1988 Germany's Katarina Witt famously fell out of the front of her low-cut costume during a spin, while France's Surya Bonaly liked to compete in one-piece unitards — the International Skating Union stepped in with some guidelines.

Today, according to the ISU, figure skating's governing body, "Ladies must wear a skirt. The Ladies dress must not give the effect of excessive nudity inappropriate for an athletic sport. Men must wear full-length trousers: no tights are allowed and the man's costume may not be sleeveless." Other than that, pretty much anything goes.

Julie is a correspondent for NPR's science desk.
Slideshow produced by May-Ying Lam.

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