Olympic ice skating costumes through the years have come a long way from the wooly skirts and puffy pants of yore to the streamlined body suits we’re more familiar with today. Perhaps that has to do with the fact that figure skating skating was a pastime long before it hit the Olympic stage.
“Carved rib or shank bones strapped to their feet,” was a common form of skate for early Northern Europeans, reports NBC. Flash forward and today skates are made of tempered carbon steel coated with chrome. Jackson Haines, the 19th century athlete noted for popularizing the hobby, wouldn’t recognize the looks found on the rink today although his ballet-influenced moves are still very much in vogue.
The dance-meets-ice event has been in 25 Olympics, most often featuring men's singles, ladies' singles, and pair skating. But it’s not just the incredible moves like the Triple Salchow that hold our attention. It’s the fabulous costuming that often comes along with it. Naturally, the history of olympic ice skating costume looks have evolved quite a bit in the last 117 years. Hemlines have come up, sheer fabrics have come out, and there have been enough sequins to cover a rink since the start of this historic sport. Don’t believe it? Take a look at Olympic ice skating costumes through the years.
Britain’s Madge Syers won the first ladies figure skating gold medal in 1908. As was the style at the time, modesty was paramount even on the ice. Here Syers wears a very Victorian ankle-length skirt and blouse as she coasts along.
How’s this for a festive look? This is Herma Planck-Szabo who wore this on her way to a gold medal win at the 1924 Olympics in Chamonix, France. A more casual look, here she’s wrapped a belt around a cardigan with a long skirt.
Believe it or not, this is the actual photo of gold and silver winners, Gillis Grafstrom of Sweden and Karl Schafer of Austria, respectively, at the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid, NY. Grafstrom became the first Winter Olympic athlete to win three consecutive gold medals, and surely his winning costume helped. Here he wears a sharp blazer with what looks like a fur collar.
Three time Olympic gold medalist Sonja Henie of Norway wore this darling white dress in 1936 to win the event held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, West Germany. She would go on to move to the U.S. and become a movie star.
You can’t talk about figure skating greats without mentioning Dick Button. In 1948, at age 18, Button did something no one thought possible: he completed a successful double axel for the first time, capturing the world’s attention and taking home the gold for the U.S.A., according to Olympics.com. Those moves were made possible by comfortable pants and a trim sweater.
Button returned to shine again at the 1952 Olympics held in Oslo where he completed the first triple loop, NBC reports. But costume-wise, gold medal winner Jeannette Altwegg of Great Britain takes the cake. As you can see, skirts were getting shorter and detailing more intricate as illustrated in the neckline of Altwegg’s skating dress.
American men swept all three places at the 1956 Olympics in Cortina D'Ampezzo, Italy. But the girl of the hour was Tenley Albright, M.D. That’s right, the American figure skater not only took home the gold that year, she later became a surgeon. Within a year of her big win, she retired from the sport to pursue her dream of becoming a physician. She later taught at HarvardMedical School, and was “a public advocate for health and prevention on the national and international stage before joining MIT as a Visiting Scientist in 2005,” according to Achievement.org.
The 1960 Olympics took place in Squaw Valley, California and here, the eventual gold winner, United State’s own Carol Heiss, warmed up in a practice rink. As you can see, the short skater skirt remained a standard in the early ‘60s.
The bouffant hair style wasn’t just popular on American streets by the mid sixties. Lyudmila Belousova rocked the look with her partner Oleg Protopopov as the Soviet Union took gold in Innsbruck, Austria. The married couple would go on to compete well into their 60s after defecting, seeking political asylum in Switzerland, and later skated on Ice Capades, according to Brittanica.
Peggy Fleming became America’s skating darling in 1968. Here she is whirling around the rink in a pink skate suit and charming bandana — a very late ‘60s look.
At Japan’s 1972 Olympics, the pairs podium held Irina Rodnina and Alexei Ulanov (center) from the Soviet Union, flanked by compatriots Lyudmila Smimova and Andrei Surakin (left) and Manuela Gross and Uwe Kagelmann from East Germany. While the skate dresses look very similar to 1960s styles, the hair is taking a turn toward the classic ‘70s looks.
A more theatrical style becomes strong in 1970s figure skating, especially on the men’s rink. Here gold medalist John Curry, of Great Britain, sports stretchy black pants that go over his skates along with a plunging neckline vest over a white button down.
“Sun’s out, buns out” so the saying goes, and by 1980 at the Olympics, back again in Lake Placid, covering the bottom was no longer an issue. At least not for Annett Potzsch of East Germany. The gold medalist wore a ruffly affair, a unique addition to the Olympic ice skating costumes through the years.
Before he was the voice of Olympic figure skating, Scott Hamilton was its star. In Sarajevo he took home the gold and debuted the latest in Olympic ice skating costumes through the years: the full body unitard.
It was called the “Battle of the Brians.” In 1988 in Calgary, Canada, U.S.’ Brian Boitano and Canada’s Brain Orser faced off and looked fierce doing it. Boitano took the gold and had a prince charming ensemble to match in this buttoned up unitard.
Name a little girl who didn’t want to be her. We’ll wait. Kristi Yamaguchi was the woman of the moment at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France. And she had the star-studded costume to match her star power.
History will never let us forget these two: Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. Biography.com’s play-by-play timeline details their battle which resulted in Kerrigan being wounded by a hitman in the lead up to the Olympics. Kerrigan ultimately took silver while Harding placed eighth. The story, as well as their individual Olympic ice skating costumes through the years, will be remembered for years to come.
At just age 15, Tara Lipinski became the youngest person to win an Olympic gold medal in an individual event. She rocked that breakthrough title with a glittery body suit to match.
United States Michelle Kwan took home bronze in 2002 in Salt Lake City. But she did it in style wearing a red skating dress with a halter top. In 2022 Kwan welcomed home her first child.
The theatrics got dialed up a notch when it came to men’s figure skating costumes in the early 2000s thanks to bold athletes like silver medal winner Evgeni Plushenko of Russia.
Gloved fingers took the ice thanks to Japan's world champion Mao Asada with this 2010 Olympic look. She took silver that year.
Ice dancing has become more popular in recent years and that’s in part thanks to dynamic duo’s like Sochi gold winners Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the USA. Here, sheer fabric adds a see-through effect to Davis purple ensemble.
Ballet once again showed its influence at the 2018 Winter Olympic games with Alina Zagitova’s costume: a tutu. She took home the gold for Russia in it.
What’s next in the Olympic ice skating costumes through the years? Tune into the Beijing Olympics beginning February 4 to find out.