leotard rankings

Leotard Rankings: The Best of 2021

Another season finished, another full set of new leos to look back on. Despite budget being smaller for most teams in 2021, squads still managed to debut some stunning designs. And with the season now officially over, it’s time for each of our editors to choose their top 10.

Looking for more leo content? We’ll be running our second annual leotard bracket on Instagram, so give us a follow, and keep an eye out for the first round of voting soon.


Let me just say I had about 25 leos in my honorable mentions, so if you’re reading this and don’t see a fave, there’s a good chance I had it on here at some point. I just like leos, OK? Anyway, let’s get to my top 10.

10. Illinois State’s silver stunner: My favorite part about this design is that Angelica Labat got to wear it as the first-ever nationals qualifier for Illinois State. What a cool treat, and she looked stunning in it. The all silver with silver ombre and silver accents is A++.

9. Rutgers’ red with white lace and criss-cross: It was a tough decision between this leo and the one Hannah Joyner wore at nationals. I went with this one for the lovely shade of red, white accents and unique criss-cross and lace design.

8. Oklahoma’s old meets new and simple black and white: I’m breaking the rules and putting two leos in one spot because I can. I loved both of these leos for different reasons. The old meets new concept is a fantastic update to one of my fave OU leos from the past. The white sleeves improve an already fabulous design. As for the black and white leo from national semifinals, it’s so unlike OU, but I love it nevertheless. It’s athletic and simple yet classy, and I love the red rhinestone accents.

7. San Jose State’s ombre with tulle straps: This design is a combination of all of my favorite things: ombre sleeves, thick strappy back and a subtle yet interesting sparkle pattern.

6. Ohio State’s white with a dash of red: I cannot get enough of this mostly white design with bold red accents. The strappy back ties it all together.

5. Illinois’ white sash: “Mesh sash” doesn’t make sense on paper, but the execution on this leo is flawless. The white + the blue ombre + the orange rhinestones is perfection.

4. California’s geometric white: I’ll always love a matte white leo, and this one is pretty perfect with its blue accents, flattering shape and open back.

3. Utah’s out-of-the-box red and white: There are small things I would tweak about this leo, but pushing those aside, it’s pretty perfect. From the ombre to the perfect pairing of red and white, this is one of the best leos of the season.

2. Temple’s subtle grey: The grey is so unique, and I love the red rhinestone accents. Plus, the mesh is in the perfect places and the perfect amounts.

1. Alabama’s nationals houndstooth: When this leo debuted, I said it was probably my favorite of the whole season. I’m solidifying that statement with this ranking. I wouldn’t change anything about the design, and I can’t get enough of the creativity with the school spirit. It’s a literal perfect 10.

Honorable mentions: Oklahoma’s chandelier, Florida’s nationals scoop back, Maryland’s strappy and blocky ombre, Auburn’s orange and blue asymmetrical ombre and snakeskin meets tiger spots, Rutgers’ one-of-a-kind red ombre, Illinois State’s red ombre sleeves, Penn State’s white ruched with funky back, Pittsburgh’s fish scales, LIU’s sunset, Washington’s regal geometric heart.


10. Illinois’ blue on white: White leos are so tough to pull off, and the Illini nailed it. It provides the perfect canvas for all of those great details (like the blue ombre mesh and blue and orange crystals) to shine.  

9. SEMO’s Redhawks: What an elegant and dramatic look for SEMO! that deep scoop back with the bold crystal accents is a showstopper. 

8. Maryland’s strappy ombre: Maryland never fails to deliver something fresh and unique. The sparkly red straps and piping add the perfect touch of funky flair to an otherwise classic look. 

7. Alabama’s nationals houndstooth: Who knew houndstooth could look this good? 

6. Iowa’s black bodice: Simple, elegant and mesh that actually matches each gymnast’s skin tone. What’s not to love? 

5. North Carolina’s logo and argyle: Like Alabama’s houndstooth leo, the Tar Heels gave the school’s signature pattern a gorgeous makeover. 

4. Temple’s platinum: Everything about this design—from the hints of mesh to the meticulous crystal placements—is impeccable. Everything.   

3. Oklahoma’s black and white: No one’s been a harsher critic of the Sooners’ leos these past few years than me, but when they get it right, they really get it right! The crystal “rain” is flawless, and the shiny red piping ties the whole look together beautifully. Gorgeous. 

2. Cal’s white: This is quite a departure for the Golden Bears, and the risk certainly paid off! As good as the back is, the open back framed in blue and jewels is particularly stunning. 

1. Temple’s For the Love of the City: This leo is just impossibly cool. From the graffiti emphasized by crystals to the unique back to the mesh sleeves with graffiti ombre, everything about this is unexpected and fabulous. 

Honorable mentions: Minnesota’s ruching, Pitt’s and UCLA’s BLM, LIU’s inaugural trio. 


Hello it’s me again, the big fan of ombré and original, open backs.

10. Oklahoma’s black and white: I love how OU went all in on the black and white here, using a lot less crimson. It’s so different from any of its other looks, and it’s very athletic. I also just love the red rhinestones and the rain-down sparkly pattern.

9. UCLA’s deep V: Many of my fellow editors weren’t big fans of this one in their rankings, but I really love it. Of course, I’m here for the unique back. I also find the front stunning and the slight ombré on the sleeves. Plus, the blue and gold sparkles along the deep V and on the cuffs make the whole look shine.

8. Alabama’s houndstooth ombré: These are my favorite ombré sleeves of all times. The bodice is also so stunning and elegant. Obviously, I love how Alabama has embraced the houndstooth this year.

7. Minnesota’s maroon ruched: This one looks fantastic in motion and so elegant. I really appreciate the colors and the gold undertones. The front ruching is gorgeous as well.

6. LIU’s ocean sunset: All of LIU’s leotards this season were excellent, but this one really is glorious. A solid ombré incorporating the school’s colors and making us feel like we’re on a beach in French Polynesia? Yes please.

5. Oklahoma’s extra shiny chandelier : I’ve been drooling over this one ever since we saw it in the preseason photoshoot. The design is stunning, and I love how sparkly this one looked on TV.

4. Alabama’s nationals houndstooth: This one is so original, and the school spirit is through the roof. I am obsessed with the back straps, too.

3. Utah’s nationals red and white: I haven’t liked any of Utah’s new leos this year, but I gasped when I saw this one. I love the colors, the ombré, the ruching, the tulle straps, the perfect amount of sparkles… Such an elegant and beautiful leotard. 

2. UCLA’s BLM: I love this one so much. It’s gorgeous in motion, flattering on everybody, and the black and gold combo is gorgeous. I also really love knowing how empowered the gymnasts feel wearing it.

1. Cal’s geometric white: Stunning. And the back, please, I could die. This whole look is *chef’s kiss.* 

Honorable mentions: Alabama’s SEC and regionals looks, Oklahoma’s old meets new, Michigan’s Big Ten leo with the ruched open back, Washington’s geometric heart, Arkansas’ chandelier, Auburn’s snakeskin, Pitt’s BLM, Rutgers’ pink leo.

Mary Emma

There were so many good leos this year that I had a hard time narrowing down my top 10, so make sure you check out the honorable mentions for more of my favorites!

10. San Jose State’s blue and yellow ombre: I love a good, fairly simple leo with ombre sleeves. Plus the strappy back is so pretty.

9. Arkansas’ chandelier: Red and white has to be one of my favorite color combos, and I really like how it’s done here. Plus the sparkles are *chef’s kiss.*

8. Kent State’s lightning bolt: I love that Kent State incorporated the lightning bolt from its logo into the design. Pair that with ombre sleeves, and you have a winner.

7. North Carolina’s logo: Everything about this leo is gorgeous—from the logo on the front to the argyle pattern on the sleeves.

6. Pitt’s new lemonade: The original “lemonade” leo is one of my favorite designs ever, so you could imagine I was ecstatic when I saw that Pitt redid it in its new colors. While I don’t like this one quite as much as the original, it’s still a new favorite of mine.

5. Alabama’s regionals ombre: Another day, another ombre look that I love. I especially love the shade of red used.

4. Temple’s For the Love of the City: Temple has been killing the leo game as of late, and this one is no exception. I love that Temple was able to pay tribute to Philadelphia with this design. Ombre might be my favorite leo trend, but I also love a cool pattern when it’s done well. 

3. Auburn’s firecracker: This leo reminds me a lot of the Illinois creamsicle leo that I love so much. White to color ombre has got to be my favorite look.

2. LIU’s sunset: While I loved all of LIU’s leos this year (see my honorable mentions), this one has to be my favorite. It makes me think of a sunset on a tropical beach, which is fitting for a team called the Sharks.

1. Utah’s nationals red and white: As I said above with Arkansas, red and white is one of my favorite combinations. Pair that with an ombre, and you have a winner for me and the best leo of 2021.

Honorable mentions: LIU’s logo, LIU’s first meet, Pitt’s BLM, Pitt’s fish scales, Northern Illinois’ red to black ombre, Alabama’s nationals houndstooth, Auburn’s snakeskin, Maryland’s black to white ombre, Penn State’s shiny white, Minnesota’s maroon ruched, Oklahoma’s nationals white, Washington’s purple to yellow ombre, Illinois’ orange ombre, New Hampshire’s paw print, Oregon State’s orange ombre, Rutgers’ black and red ombre with white top.


10. OU’s photoshoot: I appreciate how OU actually went tame with this leo. See! Clean, sparkly leos actually work Oklahoma! I think the sparkle cascades and belt look very nice on the gymnasts, and this is an all around winner.

9. Iowa’s nude mesh: We all know how Iowa purchased these leos with matching nude mesh for all skin tones (and I love that), but I also just love the design with its sweetheart neckline and open back. It’s straightforward, and the sparkles catch the light really well when the gymnasts tumble!

8. SUU’s ombre grey: Again, the simplicity in this one is why it’s great. I love the neckline and how it scoops instead of how other leos point. Plus, the sparkly T-Bird on the back adds some school spirit without being too over the top. Love it!

7. Illinois State’s silver stunner: I hope ISU uses this leo for its team in the future, but I also hope it retires it just for Labat. It is GORGEOUS! If there was a “silver princess” leo, this would be it.

6. Pitt’s symmetry: I can’t tell if I actually do like this or if I don’t, but most of the time I do. The symmetry of this leo is a dream. The sparkles that trace along the design make it look like a posh sweater, and the open back is so fun! But I still don’t know what to think! AHH

5. SJSU’s whirlwind ombre: San Jose State always has beautiful leos, and this one did not disappoint. I am loving the sparkle pattern and strappy back, along with the addition of the yellow ombre sleeves. This kinda looks like a Pitt leo!

4. Alabama’s white explosion: This leo is crazy, and I love it. The red color is great, and I love how the design is in white and comes from the side. The little “A” adds some school spirit without taking up the whole design, and the back ties it all together nicely!

3. BYU’s dazzling lights: I feel like this one didn’t get enough appreciation when it first debuted, but I am here for it. From the sparkles to the deep V to the mesh to the back, I don’t see anything to add or change; it is great!

2. LIU’s lemonade: Fantastic job on this one from LIU. When I first saw this I was like “LOVEEE,” and now I cannot get it out of my head. I can see how one would say that the ombre looks rushed, but it shows just the perfect balance of school spirit with femininity and athleticism. It is immaculate!

1. Alabama’s lipstick perfection: 10/10. Absolute perfection. When I think of this leo I think of all the shades of lipstick you can buy at the store, but more specifically the one that has sparkles on the tube. I love everything about this. Might be my new favorite Alabama leo of all time?

Honorable mentions: LSU’s light purple, Nebraska’s spiderweb,  SUU bold black, Oklahoma’s 2016 tribute, Auburn’s ombre spiderweb, Illinois State’s ombre crosses, Pitt’s BLM leo, NIU’s pretty ombre, Illinois sparkly white, Utah’s Spider-Man, SEMO’s open back, Alabama’s season opener, UNC’s argyle.


10. Penn State’s shiny white: I love the ruched look on the front and how you can vaguely see blue shimmer under the mesh. I also enjoy the V line between the navy and the white. The back is also lovely with the web-like open back. 

9. SUU’s black and white ombre: This is simple but gorgeous! The simplicity of the design makes the ombre really stand out. While the main design is black and white, I like how red is subtly incorporated via the mesh lining. The thunderbird on the back gives this leo an extra something interesting. 

8. San Jose State’s ombre: The ombre throughout this leo is to-die-for! I love how yellow is incorporated without being overpowering. The crossy straps on the back are the cherry on top. 

7. Illinois State’s red ombre sleeves: I’ve loved this ever since I first saw it! The black to red ombre is gorgeous, but my favorite part is the crossy sparkle pattern on the front. 

6. Oklahoma’s black and white: This is simple yet elegant. The black and white contrast is nice, and I like how the sparkles break up what could have been a harsh transition from the two colors. Plus, the hints of maroon are a great touch of color. 

5. Auburn’s snakeskin: The orange and blue ombre bodice is stunning! The snakeskin design is simple yet elegant and gives it a nice flair. 

4. Oklahoma’s chandelier: Oklahoma’s maroon and white is such a good color combination, and it’s done well here. I really just love the chandelier sparkle design on the front, and I enjoy the faux-V neckline as well. It’s simple and elegant, unlike many of Oklahoma’s recent leos. 

3. Auburn’s firecracker: Auburn’s just killing the new leo game this year! Auburn pulled off its school colors well here by pairing the orange and navy with white to make ombre on the sleeves and bodice! I also really love the “firecracker” sparkle design on the front. 

2. Utah’s nationals red and white: Ombre and crossy back? What more could I want? Red and white make a great ombre, and this leo shows it. Paired with the crossy back, the sparkles and the ruched look, this is a winner in my book. 

1. Michigan’s open back: I. Love. This. It’s so pretty and elegant. I especially love the open, ruched back and the touch of maize incorporated in the sparkles. 

Honorable mentions: Pitt’s new lemonade, LSU’s light purple, LIU’s sunset, LIU’s first meet, Washington’s regal geometric heart, SEMO’s elegant black with red.


10. Rutgers’ one-of-a-kind red ombre: So much to unpack. But it’s Umme, so of course she made it work. 

9. Maryland’s black to white ombre: Just a nice, pretty design. 

8. LSU’s purple and white ombre: The design isn’t great, but I’m a sucker for this shade of purple ombre, and I wish LSU used it more. 

7. Alabama’s nationals houndstooth: The houndstooth of it all. A win. 

6. UCLA’s deep V: These two shades of blue look stunning together, and the diamond-encrusted V is a pretty touch. My favorite of UCLA’s in some time. 

5. North Carolina’s logo: I didn’t know this leotard existed until I saw it on Mary Emma’s list! A dark horse pick for the best incorporation of school spirit of the year. 

4. Temple’s subtle grey: Temple took some risks with its new designs this year, but this simple one was the biggest winner for me. 

3. Stanford’s red and black: This lovely design unfortunately flew completely under the radar. Isn’t it funny how bad public relations works?

2. Ohio State’s white with a dash of red: Potentially the most technically perfect leotard ever in that there is literally nothing bad to say about it. Pure class and glamour. 

1. Utah’s Spider-Man: AND WHAT ABOUT IT. I was shocked that this got the negative reaction it did. When everyone was fawning over the Utes’ national final design, I was like…but this one though.


10. UNC’s argyle sleeves: I love when teams make use of their school “patterns” (like Alabama’s houndstooth). The argyle sleeves on this leo are the perfect use of UNC’s signature pattern. I love the creamy shade of white with the baby blue and navy. The logo on the chest is a bit big, but everything else about the leo more than makes up for it.

9. Rutgers’ collegiate: The matte white on this leo is stunning. I love the retro design that they kept understated. My only gripe is the sleeves—I wish they were white all the way through instead of the red/black ombre halfway down. 

8. Temple’s For the Love of the City: The detail in this is spectacular—they really put effort into making this a uniquely Temple leo. I also love the use of black rhinestones to add sparkle without adding more busyness to the design.  

7. Oklahoma’s photoshoot leo: I really liked this leo when Oklahoma debuted it in the photoshoot, and it didn’t disappoint in person. The low waist is always a win for me, and I really like the way the rhinestones cross the various fabrics to bring the whole thing together. 

6. Arkansas’s scallops: I am a sucker for anything with scallops, and this did the trick. The shades of red and white are gorgeous, and I love the angled waist. 

5. Minnesota’s ruching: This leo feels like a prom dress in the best way. I typically don’t like high necklines, but this looked great on everyone without reminding me of a dog collar. The back is perfect, too—a little extra detail without being distracting.

4. Michigan’s scalloped shoulders: The leo looks absolutely regal. The contrast between the yellow and blue makes the design stand out just the right amount. The rhinestones dripping down from the scallop make it elegant while the M on the back feels more athletic. I love it.

3. Utah’s Spider-Man leo: @ me all you want, but I love this leo. It’s so funky and out there, and I thought it looked really flattering on the gymnasts. I really appreciate commitment to a theme that’s not just a stock design, and this was perfect.

2. Pitt’s BLM leo: I gave this one a 10 when I rated it, so it’s gotta be up here. Serious props to Pitt for being the first team to debut and invest in a nice BLM leo. I really like the yellow sparkles on black fabric and the detail on the back.

1. UCLA’s BLM leo: This leo is pretty much perfect. I love that the team is actually putting some real money behind the cause and that their Black gymnasts feel great in it. The low waist is my favorite leo silhouette, and the gold piping gives it nice structure on the top. Absolutely gorgeous.

Honorable mentions: Washington’s regal geometric heart, BYU’s sparkly butterfly, Auburn’s rocket, Illinois’ white with blue ribbon, Rutgers’ elegance, Florida’s deep V.


10. Michigan’s subtle open-back stunner: This one is so classically Michigan, but the open back really sets it apart from the others for me.

9. Auburn’s gorgeous white, orange and navy ombre: This one combines two of my favorite design elements: matte white and ombre. Absolutely beautiful.

8. Illinois State’s ice queen silver leo: This was just so unique, and it looked absolutely beautiful on Labat. I couldn’t look away. 

7. Central Michigan’s updated maroon flames: I like this even more than the other CMU flame-design; it’s a little more simple but in the best way. Plus, the ombre sleeves are killer.

6. Alabama’s red and white ombre: I can’t get enough of how pretty this leo is. The use of the red and white ombre throughout the belt, chest and sleeves is just absolutely stunning.

5. Pittsburgh’s BLM leo: I am always a sucker for a classic black leo, and this one was absolutely stunning. I love the way the team still showed team spirit with the gold Pitt on the back while also highlighting BLM on the sleeves.

4. Minnesota’s maroon and gold ruched: I can vouch for how pretty this one is in person; I absolutely love how the gold shines through under the maroon in this design. It is just classically beautiful. 

3. Temple’s For the Love of the City leo: As Claire said, this leo is just impossibly cool and unique. I am mildly obsessed. 

2. Southern Utah’s black and white ombre: this is just so stunning in its simplicity. The black and white ombre is absolute perfection. 

1. Oklahoma black and white: If you would have told me my favorite leo of the season would belong to the Sooners, I would have laughed at you. But this epitomizes everything I love in a leo design. The use of matte white, the sharp contrast of the black bottom to the white top, and the sparkle design of OU on the chest is all just *chef’s kiss.*

Honorable mentions: UCLA BLM, the Temple platinum, Northern Illinois’ ombre swirl sleeves, Iowa’s classic black bodice


10. Oklahoma’s black and white: I’m normally not a fan of OU’s extravagant leos, but this one was over the top in a tasteful and imaginative way that I appreciated.

9. Auburn’s snakeskin leo: What bothers me in this leotard is that the blue of the sleeves doesn’t match the blue of the body. But this remains a delicate and elegant leo and I couldn’t leave it out.

8. Minnesota’s ruching: I fell in love with this leotard the moment I saw it. I just wish they’d been even bolder and gone for a maroon and gold ombre in the upper body.

7. Penn State’s ruching: As you can probably tell by now, I love the ruching effect. In this leotard, I also loved the complicated back and the V shape of the lower body.

6. Illinois’ blue-band beauty: There is something so subtle and elegant in the choice of colors in this leotard; it’s like poetry in motion. Simply beautiful!

5. Illinois State’s silver jewel: I gasped when I saw it for the first time. The colors of this leo are stunning and so is the intricate rhinestone design in the central part of the body. 

4. UCLA’s BLM leo: I love the powerful message behind this leo, but I also love the design. It’s truly empowering.

3. UCLA’s V-shape throwback: I know this was probably not meant to be a throwback leo, but the first time I saw the back, it reminded me of a leotard the Bruins wore in the early 2010s that I loved. Additionally, the embellishments on the front look like gold leaf paint, so A+ for that, too!

2. LSU’s purple and white ombre: THANK YOU for showcasing a purple and white leotard! The Tigers usually prefer purple and black designs, yet purple and white work so well together. I hope to see more of them in the future.

1. Utah’s nationals stunner: Well, I love ruching, ombre and white, so this was really my style. It’s one of the most beautiful leotards I’ve ever seen.

Honorable mentions: Iowa’s royal drip; LIU’s inaugural trio; Michigan’s scalloped leo (and its back!).

Emily M

10. UCLA’s BLM: This one grew on me. I wasn’t a fan of the busy pattern on top at first and the way the yellow cuts so harshly, but it really looked stunning in motion.

9. Oklahoma’s double V: Finally! Some simpler OU leos! This one is very vintage KJ, and I love it. The colors are great, the symmetry of the V neckline and belt is great. Solid.

8. San Jose State’s ombre: This is just a gorgeous look. It reminds me of a stormy sky, with that blue/grey situation. The touch of yellow on the sleeves is just perfect.

7. Illinois’ regionals white: I like white leos! I just do! This one is controversial for the angle of the blue slash, but I think it works.

6. Michigan’s ruched back: The back on this one is it for me. That little bit of ruching is so creative and special. 

5. Utah’s nationals red: Thank you Utah for wearing red and white! What a good look. The ombre and ruching together really set this apart for me.

4. Temple’s grey stunner: What’s even better than white? A muted murky grey with colorful rhinestones. 

3. Pitt’s purplely beauty: Phew this one is lovely. It’s unique and so different from Pitt’s other recent looks. 

2. Alabama’s nationals houndstooth: Yeah, it’s essentially the same style as the Utah leo, but the houndstooth sets it apart! So singularly Alabama.

1. Ohio State’s white winner: Maybe my favorite NCAA leo of all time. Maybe. The use of red rhinestones! The matte white! The simplicity married to uniqueness! I see you, Buckeyes.

Honorable mentions: Oklahoma’s Super Six look, Temple’s graffiti leo, BYU’s sparkle bomb, LIU’s second ombre, Penn State’s strappy back, Washington’s we finally got a new leo leo

READ THIS NEXT: Leotard Rankings: NCAA Nationals

Article by Elizabeth Grimsley, Claire Billman, Christina Marmet, Emily Minehart, Carolyn Lien, Tara Graeve, Izzi Baskin, Katherine Weaver, Talitha Ilacqua, Kalley Leer, Mary Emma Burton

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