If you are anywhere close to a regular follower of our coverage, you know we LOVE to talk about leotards. And since it’s a topic with a wide range of opinions, we thought it would be perfect for a roundtable discussion. From design element pet peeves to unpopular opinions, we discuss it all this week.
Which team, as a whole, has your favorite collection of leotards of all time?
Elizabeth: This is tough. My first instinct is to say Michigan State because it has so many good new leotards. However, the question says as a whole, so I think I’m going to have to go with Oklahoma. I know a lot of the new designs are pretty eclectic, but I love most of them and the old ones aren’t bad either.
Emily M: This is a rude question because I just don’t know! Utah, I think. The leo with the U’s all over it is horrific, but the Utes’ commitment to black, their use of LINED mesh, ahem, and their creativity are all great. Plus, bonus points for actually reaching out to the Ute tribe and getting its permission for the Ute leo. We shouldn’t be congratulating white people for doing the bare minimum, but there are other teams that rely on native language/imagery and do not do as much.
Claire: Michigan. The Wolverines have great team colors and do a great job of using them in a variety of fun ways and designs. No two Michigan leos look the same, yet they’re almost always instantly recognizable as Michigan.
Kalley: This is tricky, because while there are leos I love on most teams, there are also a lot of ones I don’t. I think I have to say Michigan. It helps that I like the colors the Wolverines are working with, but all in all I think they do a good job with leo design.
Katherine: I second Oklahoma. KJ consistently produces the most talked-about leos around the gymternet. While they’re not always talked about for, um, positive reasons, that is something that’s always stood out to me. I like that I never know what to expect from an Oklahoma leo.
Mary Emma: I’m going to go with Illinois for this one. I love how lately the team has embraced using lots of orange in its leo designs. It’s a color lots of other orange teams seem to shy away from (looking at you Florida), but Illinois has shown that orange designs can be great.
Talitha: I will go with LSU. I like most of the Tigers’ designs and I love the combination of purple and gold (and crystals). Recently, though, Utah has also stepped up its game and this year Kristina Comforte did an excellent job designing leotards for UCLA too.
Tara: This is a hard one! There are designs on every team that I love, and some not-so-good ones too. Recent Oklahoma can be a bit much at times, but going back a few years there’s so many gems. Utah and Cal are close behind; both have developed a great collection of leotards, especially with the strength of recent designs.
What’s a perfectly fine leotard that you irrationally hate?
Elizabeth: I’ll start with the disclaimer that this leo from UC Davis has grown on me since I first saw it, but at first, for some reason, I really really disliked it. I have no idea why. Normally matte blue + mesh sleeves + some sparkles is a winning combination.
Emily M: I couldn’t tell you why I hate Michigan’s sweetheart neckline and mesh leo. By all rights, I should like it. It’s in my sweet spot for a lot of reasons. Something about the shade of blue or level of monochrome? I don’t know! I just don’t know.
Claire: There are a lot of leos I hate for completely rational reasons (looking at whatever this is, UCLA), but admittedly I have no reason to hate this LSU leo as much as I do. .
Kalley: This leo from UCLA. In theory, I should like it: I am a sucker for a black leo, and I like it when things are kept simple and classy. But the neckline on this just isn’t flattering, and I am not a fan of all the mesh and the way it carries over to the shoulders.
Katherine: I hate to shout out an entire team, but Florida’s leos just haven’t been doing it for me lately. None of them are ugly at all; they just don’t really stand out as anything special. If anything, they all feel really similar. An example is this one; I guess it’s fine, but it’s screaming “meh” to me.
Mary Emma: This one from Arizona. It’s so close to being in the running for my favorite leo of all time, but I just can’t with the neckline. It bugs me so much.
Talitha: I can’t bring myself to like this leotard from UCLA, the one with which the Bruins won the 2018 national title. I have really tried to like it, as that competition will always have a special place in my heart, but I can’t get over the neckline. Those silver straps around the neck ruin it for me.
Tara: This Alabama leo. It’s perfectly fine, but I just can’t bring myself to like the giant mandala-like sparkle design on the front and shoulders.
Throwback leos or designs: Yay or Nay?
Elizabeth: Throwbacks always. I can’t get enough of Texas Woman’s wearing actual throwback leotards for its alumni meet, and I also love when teams recreate old designs for new leos, like Georgia has done with a couple recent leos.
Emily M: Yes please! Like Elizabeth, I love it when teams wear actual throwbacks (thank you always Texas Woman’s and Kent State!), but it’s also fun to see retro looks mixed with updated styles, like UCLA’s centennial leo.
Claire: Yes, please! I don’t care if they’re actual throwbacks or updated twists, I want more.
Kalley: 100% yay. I wish more teams would participate in this trend. It’s really fun to see older designs, especially since a lot of current designs are similar. I understand why a team may not want to wear something that will be uncomfortable (I’d imagine velvet falls into that category), but take an old design and make it new again.
Katherine: Nay! Nay! All the nays! I just feel like all of them are so ugly. Maybe wear them in the gym as an excuse to take funny pics, but there’s no reason they should see the light of day. *shrinks back nervously*
Mary Emma: Personally, I think throwback designs are great! I typically don’t like them as much as more modern leos, but I think they are a great way to show off the leotard fashions of the past and reminisce about earlier times.
Talitha: Absolutely! As a historian, I love anything reminiscent of the past and, more generally, I love a sound retro style. Additionally, teams like Utah and Georgia have done such a good job with their throwback designs recently, and UCLA’s centennial leotard was flawless.
Tara: Yay and nay. Maybe it’s just me being a younger person and not being exposed to the older style of gymnastics as much, but most throwbacks don’t do a ton for me. They’re fun, but just not my favorite designs.
What’s your biggest leotard design pet peeve?
Elizabeth: I hate holes on the front on leos. Sternum holes, cleavage holes, neckholes—you name it. This includes literal holes or ones that appear as holes by using mesh or lighter-colored fabric.
Emily M: I agree with all the nude mesh points, especially because the mesh is only “nude” in the context of gymnasts with a very narrow range of skin tones, which is inherently problematic. For example, this MSU look (I’m in no way singling out MSU or the gymnasts in the photo, it’s just a clear example of a problem that persists at many teams). Beyond that, it is absolutely that seam that shows around the shoulders in leos with mesh sleeves. I realize leo construction makes it necessary in a lot of cases, but I can’t not look at it.
Claire: I’m OK with nude mesh when it actually matches the gymnast’s skin tone like the gorgeous leo Margzetta Frazier wore to 2018 elite nationals. However, as Emily M said, it’s almost impossible for a college team to do this when they buy leos that will be worn for years by multiple gymnasts.
Kalley: Echoing others here, but I am not a fan of nude mesh. As Emily said, it is inherently problematic and I just don’t ever find it to be a beautiful design element. But more than that, I think really open back designs bother me.
Katherine: Any use of crushed velvet is a big no from me. That in no way has to do with my dislike of throwback leos (read: it does).
Mary Emma: NUDE MESH. I can tolerate it when it’s used as sleeves, like this one from Minnesota, but pretty much anything else is a no go for me, particularly nude mesh faux necklines.
Talitha: I will have to agree with Mary Emma, I can’t stand nude mesh, even on sleeves. I also really dislike sleeveless leotards, but luckily we don’t see them anymore, at least not in collegiate gymnastics.
Tara: Seconding Elizabeth with the chest holes. Sometimes it works, but most of the time it doesn’t. Nude mesh is also a big one for me. I agree with Mary Emma about nude mesh and sleeves, but it has to be a really particular way for me to like it.
Which leotard brand makes your favorite stock designs?
Elizabeth: We see stock designs from GK most often, but I’m partial to Dreamlight stock leotards. They’re a little more unique, and less teams have them. I’m thinking Georgia in the mid-2000s. I used to love going into the online designer and recreating some of my favorite Gymdogs designs.
Emily M: Definitely Milano, which Rebecca turned me onto. The looks are very creative and the colors are great, but I don’t know that any NCAA teams use it, since it’s a European brand. I also like Alpha Factor, which outfits Michigan State and LSU off the top of my head, and has added a few of each team’s custom looks to its stock lineup.
Claire: No surprise, I love GK! It’s the gold standard.
Kalley: I think I’ll go with Ozone. The Ozone leos I’ve seen have mostly all been really lovely. I don’t mind GK, either, as long as teams make sure to keep it creative when utilizing its more common designs.
Katherine: I’ve been loving Ozone’s designs. They feel a little more unconventional. I also really like Sylvia P’s leos, though we don’t see them in very often NCAA.
Mary Emma: You might expect me to say GK for this one, considering that I’ve spent the last two months using its leo designer to make leos for every NCAA team, but I also really like Ozone’s designs. I just wish Ozone had a leo customizer too.
Talitha: Both GK and Alpha Factor have some gorgeous designs. Their variety and diversity can match almost any team’s style.
Tara: I love the GK customizer and I will say that there’s a lot of good ones out there, but there’s also so many teams/clubs using GK designs. I’ve seen a lot of great Ozone ones recently and definitely would love to see more of them!
What will leo designs look like in 10 years?
Elizabeth: It’s hard to predict fashion trends in general; if you said 10 years ago ombre would be the next big thing, I’ll give you a puppy. However, the fun of this roundtable question is to make wild guesses. I think we’re going to see even more daring backs, straps and fabrics. Right now we pretty much stick to mesh, “matte” fabric and mystique. However, I can see a team trying out something that looks like leather but is still functional for movement.
Emily M: I have two dreams. Either 1. We move in the direction of dance leotards, all strappy and open backs, or 2. We move back to the very athletic styles that we saw in the mid-2000s.
Claire: I think we’re going to see more variety in the cuts: Boy shorts, full length arms and legs, completely backless, etc. I also think we’ll see more sublimated designs (think Utah’s fantastic SLC leo).
Kalley: Since everything old becomes new again, I’m holding out hope that we will see a comeback of some of the athletic styles in the early to mid 2000s, as Emily mentioned.
Katherine: Maybe I’ve been listening to too much Chromatica, but I want to see the use of more metallic designs to create futuristic, robotic looks. Experimenting with cutouts could also be interesting. Or a disaster. But definitely interesting!
Mary Emma: This is hard to predict, but I think we’ll start to see more crazy patterns and wacky designs like Oklahoma currently has. I think teams will start to get bored with the same simple designs over and over again, and they will try to outdo each other to see who can make the most memorable leos.
Talitha: If I were to be provocative, I would warn you to get ready for a dystopian world in which teams will compete for the boldest, most absurd and irreverent designs, Oklahoma style. More realistically, given the ways of the world, I think that we will see even more crystals and expensive designs. Finally, I wonder if we will also witness a rise of in-character leotards, in line with UCLA’s Operation Peacock.
Tara: It’s hard to predict the future, but the first thought that comes to my mind is more elaborate, creative designs like we’ve started to see from Oklahoma. I also think we’ll continue to see extensive use of sparkles, and in my dream world, more strappy, open backs.
Out of these design elements—ombre, mesh, strappy/open backs—which would you only be allowed to use once, include in every leotard until the end of time, and never use in a leotard ever again?
Elizabeth: I made this question and even I’m not happy about it. If I’m forced to choose… I’ll go with use ombre on every leotard until the end of time, have a strappy/open back on just one and never use mesh ever again (although I love ombre mesh, so this is making me cry a little, don’t mind me).
Emily M: Listen, I love ombre as much as everyone, but I want strappy backs! Ombre we can use once, and throw mesh right in the trash.
Claire: I’d use mesh once, strappy/open backs on everything, and *gulp* banish ombre.
Kalley: Ombre everything, mesh once, and strappy backs straight into the trash. I realize I am in the minority opinion on that one, and I don’t care.
Katherine: I love ombre, but I’m gonna say use it once. I’ll use strappy backs on every leo because I feel like there’s more room for creativity, where there’s really only one way to do ombre (it’s kind of the definition of ombre). Bye, mesh!
Mary Emma: I’d use ombre on every leo until the end of time, use strappy/open backs once and never use mesh again. I do love ombre mesh sleeves, but the tradeoff would be worth it if I never had to see nude mesh again.
Talitha: This question is easy for me. I would certainly go with ombre on every leotard until the end of time—ombre designs are my favorite by far; strappy/open backs on just one—I’ve never been a fan of those open-back UCLA leotards, but Florida’s recent complex and classy back designs have grown on me; and mesh never again—I really don’t like mesh.
Tara: Ahhhh! This is hard! Definitely ombre in every leo. I love mesh (especially mesh ombre), but I think I’d rather have at least one strappy/open back leo. By process of elimination, that leaves mesh gone forever.
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