In the world of professional wrestling, it can certainly be said that the character of a wrestler is of equal importance as any move or maneuver they might perform. In the entertainment industry, it is a widely known that a costume is what makes a character concept truly come to life. The gimmicks and personalities of each wrestler are emphasized through their attire, which often serves as a nonverbal storytelling element. As someone who is mostly an outsider to the pro wrestling world, I can attest that the unique “uniforms” of pro wrestlers is one of the most interesting and engaging aspects of the sport. When wrestlers step into the ring wearing something rather extravagant or eccentric, fans are automatically more entertained and invested in the outcome of the match.
In addition to providing establishing character and personality, a modern pro wrestler’s attire will often draw inspiration from the trends started in the earlier days of wrestling entertainment. In order to understand these costume choices, we must dive into the evolution of pro wrestling outfits throughout the years. Such exploration will hopefully provide context and insight into some of your favorite wrestlers’ gear.
While the earliest wrestlers would wear whatever garments were already in their possession, it was usually the goal to be wearing as little as possible. This was due to the need to be able to move as easily as possible. This is a need still present for many wrestlers today.
Professional wrestling in the 1800’s consisted of large men being recruited from the streets of England by traveling circuses and carnivals. These men were to hold impromptu
wresting matches against one another as a form of entertainment. Considering they were circus acts, wrestlers during this “Carny Era” of wrestling usually fell into larger-than-life character roles in order to up the overall entertainment value. This usually involved wearing bright colored trunks, which is a costume element still heavily utilized in modern wrestling attire. This is also around the time that face masks gained popularity among those who wrestled.
Amateur wrestling attire heavily impacted what was worn by professional wrestlers during the 1920’s and 30’s. Some huge attire influences taken from non-professional wrestling were singlets, one pieces, and long tights. Groin cups and outside supporters were also popular at this time in both the amateur and professional wresting settings. Long tights are a particularly important element to be added to the uniform, as they generally served as an added layer of protection. Additionally, long tights provided more surface area for customization, which many pro wrestlers used to portray their gimmick.
As seen in many other sports impacted by the WWII draft, the 1940’s saw a rise in female talent. Along with that came revealing and borderline scandalous costumes to keep the men at home interested in the sports program. These scant outfits usually consisted of low cut, bustier or corset style tops and one pieces. Such outfits were not designed for athletic excursions, but were solely meant for the male gaze. Despite this, many women of the time took this in stride and were empowered by wearing such attire, which is perhaps the mindset of those who proudly wear similar gear in modern times.
The post-war atmosphere brought with it representations of the war enemies in the form of Axis-Powers themed heels. These personas relied heavily on racial stereotypes and utter hatred for the enemies of WWII. An example of this would be the Von Brauners, a wrestling tag team
that would sport full-on Nazi attire. Though gimmicks such as these are not culturally acceptable today, this was around the time when wrestler’s would begin to go all out with their costuming
in order to successfully establish their characters.
The 1950’s is also when televisions became more common for the average person to have in their home. Therefore, the visual
appearance of wrestling became more important than ever. This was not achieved in a way that required big, flashy costumes all of the time, though. Most of the biggest wrestlers in the industry at the time opted for simple gear, often only wearing trunks. Going shirtless meant they would be showing off their body more, and this made the event even more exciting for those watching on television. The elimination of elaborate costumes sometimes made the matches seem more authentic and raw.
The mask regained popularity in the 1960’s, with wrestlers like Dick “The Destroyer” Beyer basing their entire gimmick off of the face covering. The concept of wearing a mask while wrestling was – for some reason – extremely well received by fans. Beyer once stated, “I was asked to wear a mask in 1962 and I said, ‘You have to be out of your mind.’ In four weeks, it doubled my income.”
Typically cited as the best decades of professional wrestling, the 70’s and 80’s saw a rise in popularity in the media. With this increase in relevance came bigger and better talents than ever before, fit with characters and gimmicks that were truly larger-than-life. Many performers opted for elaborate costumes to make dramatic entrances, utilizing fabrics like leather and denim to bring their character to life in a way wrestlers before had not. While these wrestlers disregarded practicality and comfort in favor of presentation, this time period
was also when groin cups were pretty much completely phased out by those who were striving for agility. More compressing fabrics were a much better substitute for this, and thus we can see than many wrestlers of the time opted for latex or spandex types of materials. These are the most similar outfits to what we see most often today.
The wrestling superstars of this era were not just known for their abilities, but for their striking character arch with attire to match. When you think of wrestlers like Stone Cold Steve Austin, Dude Love, and The Undertaker, you probably think of their wild costumes and entrances that made the events so much more enticing. While the 80’s might be deemed the “Golden Age” of wrestling – as far as entertainment and talent go – the 90’s wrestling sphere truly produced some of the most iconic names in the business.
This was when women’s wrestling began to rise in popularity, with Tammy “Sunny” Sytch being one of the most successful women in the WWF at the time. Sunny often sported bikini tops with brief style shorts when she performed in the ring, and this continues to be a go-to uniform choice for many women in the industry.
In modern professional wrestling, there is no set standard for what wresting entertainers can wear in the square circle. Depending on the character, a wrestler might choose to wear simple trunks or a full on coat with bells and whistles. Nowadays, most elements found within pro wrestling attire can be attributed to wrestling attire trends of the past. It is very common for wrestlers to make references to icons of the past or incorporate classic costume styles into their ensembles. Understanding the origins of these elements should certainly add a new layer to the outfit choices made in professional wrestling today.
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