Eastern Michigan

What MAC Gymnasts Really Think About Their Leotards

Seasoned and casual college gymnastics fans alike are accustomed to weekly Leotard Rankings, which have been a recurring segment on College Gym News for years. The metrics that go into scoring are straightforward: design, fabric, sparkle, school spirit, uniqueness, and overall appearance. Rather than editors today, seniors from three MAC teams share their favorite leos—and everything that goes into how they rank what’s in their team’s closet.

New leotards take the top spot for many seniors, as they are often the leotards that they have input on as a class. Whether planned or a surprise, similar criteria come to mind when breaking down leotard opinions across the conference.

Fit, form, and function 

The first question that comes up when the whole team needs to match is deceptively simple: Does it fit and flatter everyone? Placement of any design elements need to take into account a variety of torso shapes while still looking uniform. Take the current trend of faux belts on leotards for example; Eastern Michigan tweaks it to flatter all of their athletes by turning it into a slight chevron. Since 2019, four of its seven new designs have this feature. 

Next, is the final design still visible in motion? Big blocked areas of color are key to legibility and can either be sharpened or dulled by strategically colored rhinestones. Bowling Green’s recent leotards demonstrate both concepts brilliantly, with white stoning making a clear separation between matte and mesh fabrics on its most recent leotard, while a combination of white and orange stoning contributes to the gradient on its ombre  design.

Is the leotard built with gymnasts in mind? With open back (and backless) leotards in fashion, athletes have had to get creative with concealing bra straps. If yes, the fabric needs to be able to stay in place and be sweat-resistant to hold its color. 

Comfort is key 

Fewer new pieces use a completely mystique base, or even any mystique fabric at all. It’s often considered the least comfortable leotard fabric because of its rigidity, and it’s also the most expensive due to its shimmery foil top layer. This is a win-win for gymnasts across the MAC, who prioritize comfort and have limited apparel budgets. Matte lycra is preferred by many athletes, mimicking everyday practicewear and standard tank leotards.

In the same vein, mesh sleeves can be hit or miss with the athletes. Gymnasts need to learn how the fabric sits on their arms and how to best work with it shifting. It can be a lot to adapt to, especially if stoning is applied on top of the mesh. Eastern Michigan senior Anna Grace “AG” McCullough adds that they can also be “cold, because there’s really nothing there,” which fans may not take into account. 

One leotard stands out for Bowling Green’s Sarina Ross when ranking comfort. The piece was mostly an orange mystique leotard and had double lined mesh on its sleeves and upper chest. “It was so tight,” she shared. “When [the coaches] cut out the bottom layer, that made it way looser, and it was more comfortable.”

Conversely, the team’s orange and white ombre leotard by Sylvia P is the softest by her account. The sentiment is echoed by Kent State’s seniors, with Karlie Franz sharing, “Sylvia P is a brand we’ve worked our way into. Those are comfortable and relatively new in the college space.” Fabric choices are key to all of the Golden Flashes’ seniors, with Kyndall Gilbert vouching for the team’s famous crushed velvet leo as the most comfortable in their team closet. Assistant coach and leotard design afficionado Josie Angeny remembers loving that crushed velvet leotard before knowing anything else about Kent State, thanks to seeing pictures and videos of it through social media. It has been a staple in the MAC for years, and in 2024 it received an NHL Reverse Retro-esque treatment with its own slightly updated version

Fabric choices aside, the cut of the leotard can also play a major role in determining comfort. Every athlete will have their own opinion on ideal sleeve length, but most will agree that having some iteration of an open back will make the piece more comfortable. Whether it takes shape as a keyhole between the shoulder blades or an intricate open back with decorative straps, the open space allows for the fabric to stretch with the gymnasts’ shoulder and hip movements. It’s no secret—and also quite in fashion for 2020’s leotards—of the 24 new leotards in the MAC since the 2021 season, all but three have had a keyhole, low back, or open back design.

Color feeds confidence 

Getting the color just right is a mammoth task for every college team, but arguably more so when your conference has teams sporting green, orange, navy, maroon, and brown as the stars of their respective colorways. One way around it is with the timeless all-black leotard, or with its modern counterpart (or younger sibling?), dark gray matte, a la Bowling Green. The gray matte allows stoning to rise to the foreground and camouflages chalk twice over; lowering contrast relative to black fabric and matching the chalk’s similar flat luster. All in all, the gray matte looks cleaner longer.

Ross is a fan of the dark leotards, sharing, “I like black leos mostly, with some orange, definitely sparkly, and I probably wouldn’t want a leo that’s high-neck.” Those traits are all commonplace in the Falcons’ closet, with the team only exploring designs without a black base in recent years.

Some choose to tackle the challenge head on, working with multiple color variations before settling on what will be worn. Eastern Michigan’s seniors cycled through multiple green shades before deciding which to feature on their striped 2024 leo, noting that each new fabric they include will carry the green tones differently. Depending on the fabric, both kelly green and evergreen can get the job done. The former carries well on mesh while the latter shines without changing hues on mystique fabric. The challenge of green leotards isn’t lost on McCullough, who admires Michigan State’s use of multiple greens in its closet.

Look good, feel good

There’s no doubt that wearing new clothes adds pomp to any occasion. When it’s a leotard, and typically just one per season, that feeling is magnified and often shared by the whole team. For Eastern Michigan, the seniors were involved in designing the striped leotard unveiled this January from start to finish. McCullough recalls testing numerous samples along with her fellow seniors in order to get the best combination of colors, stripe placement, and fabric on the design. “We sent back four different samples…and then we got a few samples of literally just the sleeve,” she shared, noting they tried on just a sample sleeve once the seniors decided on the black torso.

Figuring that this year would follow the pattern of one new leotard per season, the seniors didn’t expect any other surprises with team apparel. To their shock, head coach Katie Minasola’s snack bucket didn’t have snacks after practice one day in the middle of February—a donor had paid for a second new leotard, worn for the first time at the Eagles’ senior night. The mostly white leo with a ruched green torso was a hit with the team. “White leos are tricky [in that] they don’t flatter everyone, but I feel like this one did a really good job at making everybody look good,” Eagle senior Sophia Rios shared. “The green over a large part of the front helped but still gave the clean look of the white leo.”

At Kent State, the team held similar sentiments with its Baby Blue design. This leotard is the first of its kind to adopt the Golden Flashes light blue, and the first in the team’s closet by retailer Sylvia P. Associate head coach Craig Ballard appreciates all that Sylvia P can do with the team’s apparel budget, which typically limits the team to one new leotard per season. He added, “One thing I give Sylvia P a lot of credit on is they work with you on budgets. They know what you have to spend, and they make the most out of every bit of what you’re putting in.” Gilbert can attest to that, sharing that the Baby Blue leotard has one thick layer of fabric instead of multiple sewn together. “It’s not very heavy, but you also feel supported because of the thick layer,” she praised.

School spirit 

In this department, the door is wide open. For many gymnasts in the MAC, inspiration for dream leotards comes from a mix of other team’s leos and other sports’ uniforms from their own schools. McCullough and Boris share that while Eastern Michigan has the Block E on most of its leotards, their baseball team’s new Script E would be a welcomed new feature. “It’d be cool having an eagle on it,” Boris added, to which her fellow seniors agreed with smiles. Rios considered off past leotard rankings to build on Boris’ idea, pitching a play off of Nebraska’s recent sleeve detailing to read as Eagle wings.

Ross wants to see Bowling Green continue using the BG logo as a large design element, similar to how the team donned it on its new leo debuted this January. “We don’t have it much on our leotards. It would be new and fun for us.” Her fellow senior and roommate Lauren Bannister is often the first on the team to check for weekly leotard rankings and shares any mention of Bowling Green in the weekly installment with her teammates. 

Kent State’s seniors had a myriad of ideas for what they’d put on their dream leotards, with Gilbert eagerly pitching another bird-themed design on behalf of the class. Angeny looks to the Golden Flashes’ football uniforms for inspiration in her current batch of designs, referencing their recent all-gold uniform.  

Put simply, Rios confirmed, “How it makes you feel when you’re wearing it is [the] big thing.” There can be a multitude of factors to explain why a leotard is enjoyed by its team or not, but they ultimately all umbrella under making athletes feel prepared and powerful.

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Article by Peri Goodman


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