More comfortable materials give cheerleaders reason to cheer

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012, 8:49 p.m.

With more comfortable materials, fashionable detailing and bolder colors, the cheerleading uniform has taken on a whole new feel and look.

“We've come a long way,” says Kim Williams, vice president, design and catalog, for Varsity Spirit Fashion, the world's largest designer and manufacturer of cheerleading uniforms “The uniforms have become more sleek and athletic and are built for performance, built for the athletes that wear them. When designing uniforms, we've kept in mind the athletes who were wearing them. Now, our uniforms have greater flexibility and strength, and coaches have many more options to choose from.”

Years ago, the entire uniform — sweater and skirt — was made of wool, Williams says. Over the years, it has evolved into double-knit polyester tops and skirts. In the early '80s, the trends included blousey pullovers with waistbands, button-down vests, tops with sailor collars and little ties, as well as one-piece jumpers.

Today, Varsity introduces at least 40 new designs every year in the market that previously saw limited choice.

“Other areas have changed, as well,” Williams says. “For instance, lettering. Back in the day, they used chenille letters, and then they started using tackle twill, which is more athletic looking. Advances in design and manufacturing techniques now allow us to offer hundreds of options for customers to personalize their uniforms. We offer lettering with stretch — to move with the garment.”

The lighter-weight, softer fabrics are knit from high-quality yarns, which resist stains and wick moisture. Varsity introduced Motionflex to the market, which is a super soft and lightweight stretch fabric with moisture-management properties so it wicks away moisture from your skin. It keeps cheerleaders cooler when it's hot and warmer when it's cold. Varsity uniforms are sourced and manufactured in the United States.

Jessica Tuck, a senior at Franklin Regional High School has been cheering since the third grade. She agrees uniforms have changed over the years, recalling seeing one her sister wore.

“I really like the lettering on the uniform I have now,” Tuck says. “To me, the uniforms have always been comfortable, but the new ones are really comfortable, and our coach makes sure the uniform fits well and looks good on us.”

The National Federation of State High School Associations estimates there are 400,000 cheerleaders at the high-school level in public schools. Varsity estimates another 200,000 in private and parochial schools. There are also about 200,000 cheerleaders who cheer for all-star teams, which are more like club teams and not affiliated with a school.

The National Federation requires that midriffs are covered, and most national-level competitions have a similar rule, Williams says. Other than that, there are no specific requirements. Schools can make their own restrictions, such as skirt length.

Making sure the length is appropriate was a top priority for coach Chrissy Lookabaugh, who, along with Margie Brown, leads the cheerleaders at Valley High School in New Kensington.

“When choosing a new uniform, it is important to keep in mind what is appropriate in terms of length and keeping a body covered,” says Lookabaugh. “That way, the girls are able to still do the moves and not worry about their skirt riding up or their belly showing. Our uniforms have a high-waisted skirt. The point is to support the team they are cheering for and to respect the school and community they represent. It is not a fashion show. These girls are athletic and work hard as part of a team.”

The basic cheerleading uniform consists of a vest and skirt plus a shell that can be worn underneath the vest and briefs for under the skirt.

If taken care of properly, uniforms will last a long time, cheer coaches say, because of the more-advanced fabrics and construction. Uniforms can be custom designed in terms of color, stitching and embellishments. Varsity has a retro style available.

“The detail on our uniform looks really nice, and the way the lettering is done, it makes it stand out more,” Tuck says.

With the advanced fabrics, including a spandex-type material, today's uniforms are a lot thinner and fit tightly so they stay in place and are also extremely comfortable, says Upper St. Clair coach Jillian Gaygan.

“Some of the older uniforms made of wool were itchy, and they would fold up, and you would have to pull it back down,” Gaygan says. The girls can concentrate on jumping and tumbling rather than wardrobe malfunctions. The newer uniforms also have lines that make movements look very crisp.

Clothing needs to be stronger, too, because cheerleaders today do more advanced moves, cheer coaches say, and to keep up the year-round pace for football and basketball seasons and regional and national cheer competitions.

The newer materials and stylings allow uniforms to be fancier, and even flashier, if that is what you want, Fisher says.

“I am more of a fan of the plain and simple look,” says Cassandra Fisher, coach coordinator at Franklin Regional. “I don't want too much going on, because that can be a distraction. But I do like the fabrics on the newer uniforms, because they move with you, and you don't have to worry about them riding up and showing stomach.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 412-320-7889.

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