But despite the relatively small amount of clothing, a surprising amount of preparation goes into each piece.
First, there’s the underwear. Exposed panties and bra straps can result in point deductions, so it’s important for gymnasts to make sure that everything stays tucked into the leotard.
and strapless shirts w bra straps showing ? pic.twitter.com/egzi9yMlwa
— ✨ (@_katyaxo) August 4, 2016
While there are companies that make bras and panties specifically for gymnasts – including bras with clear straps for open-backed designs – the underwear worn by team USA gymnasts is custom made. And to prevent slippage, many use the same “butt glue” used at pageants.
But then come the leotards. Because each gymnast is built differently, those have to be custom made as well. They go through at least two fittings – three, if necessary – making them almost as demanding as wedding gowns.
Kelly McKeown is the chief design officer for GK Elite, the company that has designed and made the Olympic leotards for Team USA since 2000.
She explains just how much goes into the patriotic Team USA leotards – that take nearly two years to design and create:
“There’s a lot of research and development that goes into it. It’s something you don’t want to rush. If you want to use a new technique, if you want to experiment, then you have to wear-test it, you have to wash-test it, you have to make sure that it’s not going to fail on the competition floor.”
McKeown also noted that, although there are no hard and fast rules regarding covering the arms and legs, covering the arms is considered “more professional,” and covering the legs just generally isn’t done:
“I can’t speak with absolute authority on that, but I’ve been in the industry for a long time and I know I’ve seen long legs, but in a random case where everybody talks about it like Oh my gosh! Did you see that?”
Although the gymnasts are the ones who will ultimately perform in the leotards, they don’t make the final decisions regarding their style and design. That privilege is reserved for team USA’s Marta Karolyi.
The Olympic wardrobe for one gymnast can cost over $10,000 due to the thousands of Swarovski crystals that are used on each individual piece, but that cost is covered by USA Gymnastics, the sport’s national governing board.