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From Basic to Bedazzled, a Look Back at the Evolution of Gymnastics Style

Last night as we were watching our amazing US women's gymnastics team win the gold medal, we couldn't help but notice how absolutely ferocious those l

Last night as we were watching our amazing US women's gymnastics team win the gold medal, we couldn't help but notice how absolutely ferocious those ladies looked. I'm not talking about their muscular quads and killer dismounts either--I'm talking about their LOOK. The metallic leotard, strong eye and piles of Swarovski crystals sent as much of a message as a woman wearing a Roland Mouret dress and five inch Louboutins: Don't eff with me.

These powerhouses are so compelling because of the superhuman things they do with their bodies, but we're also fascinated by their fashion code. To that end, we decided to take a look back at the skinniest catwalk of them all--the balance beam.

From Nadia Comaneci in 1976 to our 2012 US Fab Five, come take a tumble with us through the history of gymnastics style.

Nadia Comaneci:

Nadia put gymnastics onto the world stage when she scored a perfect 10 on the uneven bars in 1976 at the Montreal Olympics. She was only 14 at the time, and uniforms were pretty rudimentary, basically just a plain leotard and warm-ups. In 1980 (middle) she won another gold, and what's striking about that picture to me is how curvy and non-muscular she looks. Also note the v-neck and gold chain. The last picture is Nadia in 2005 generally looking amazing.

The Princess Di:

While most gymnasts sport a ponytail or otherwise slicked back 'do, a handful of memorable ladies went for the coif of the People's Princess. Mary Lou Retton (center) did it in 1984 (which was kind of the height of Diana-mania) and ML's doppelganger, Kerri Strug, went for the short pouf in 1996--a mere year before Di's tragic death). Russia's Svetlana Khorkina also rocked short hair for many years.

The US uniforms through the 80s and early 90s were pretty simple too, featuring a stylized flag on a simple white background. That would all change though in the heady, blingy days of the early 2000s.

Coordinating White Scrunchies:

You could spot team USA from a mile away in 1992 and 1996. The fluffy, curling ironed bangs and enormous scrunchies just screamed "We watch Beverly Hills 90210 when we're not busy training." Extra points for the coordinated effort.

Welcome to 2004 Flair

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Leotards started taking a turn for the dramatic in 2004. Coincidence that Janet Jackson's infamous wardrobe malfunction took place the same year? We think not.

Leotards were more colorful overall. Fabric-wise, some countries stuck to traditional velvet, while others, like the U.S., broke out the shinier, more space-age fabrics. Romania's Catalina Ponor (far right) really went for it in an edgy leotard with see through cut outs and metal accents.


The 2008 Olympics in Beijing, besides being disappointing for the US team, marked the beginning of the recession that is still plaguing us even now. And much like the movement towards heritage brands in fashion, gymnastics reacted similarly. The US went for ultra modern fabrics, but kept it pretty simple otherwise with one color and sprays of crystals. China's leotards reflected their culture beautifully.

Post Modern:

The question on everyone's mind last night was: Why the heck are those leotards so shiny? Slate had the same question and was kind enough to provide the answer. The fabric is called Mystique and is a spandex base that is then covered with small foil dots. The result? A molten, plasticky, shiny, glorious mind-fuck. A gymnastics coach told Slate that the fabric reflects "current fashion," and it's also much cooler than crushed velvet.

The Kardashian Effect: Alicia Sacromone already let us in on a little gymnast secret: Eye makeup must match your leotard. Last night Jordyn Wieber channeled the Miu Miu spring 2012 runway and rocked red on her lids.

Gymnasts, like Jordyn Wieber, have professed a love of the Kardashians, and the smoky eyes and long lashes we've seen this week are testament to this. Our fave version comes courtesy of "Russian diva" Aliya Mustafina (right), who does the most mesmerizing combo of cat eye and sparkle that we've ever seen.

The Natural Hair Debate:

Hot on the heels of Oprah's natural hair O cover debate, comes Gabby-gate. According to Jezebel, there was a hue and cry all over the internet because Gabby's hair was too messy and too straight and not straight enough. Seriously.

Dominique Dawes went with a short natural cut at the 2000 Olympics and here is the point we would like to make: Just look what these ladies need to do with their heads! Whether it's natural or relaxed, they need to do what works for them, and yes, there are going to be a few flyaways once in a while. Sheesh.