Why Do Roller Derby Teams Wear Costumes?

Why Do Roller Derby Teams Wear Costumes?

If you’ve ever watched a roller derby match, you know what a hardcore sport it is. Hits, whips and grand slams galore — derby players are no strangers to blood and bruises. But there’s one more reason going to a match is really worth seeing: the costumes. Not every derby team dresses up, but unlike any other sport, it’s definitely become a trend to dress as theatrically as possible. From fishnet stockings to tutus and crazy-colored wigs, it’s definitely a sight to see. So why have costumes become such a huge part of derby culture?


The most obvious answer could be that it’s largely a women’s sport. Yes, there are men’s derby teams and plenty of co-ed leagues as well, but women still make up a whopping 98 percent of players in leagues across the country. From a logical standpoint, there are simply more options available in the women’s costume department.


More likely, however, the gender distribution plays a much different role in the style standards of roller derby than just availability of clothing. The sport made its way into the public in 1935, in which male-female teams of two circled a wooden track in competitions that lasted for days on end. The sport continued to evolve over the decades, but steadily developed a tinge of theatrics, literally. In the 1940s and 50s, derby was much more of a show to attend than a sport to play. Matches were largely staged for entertainment and comic effect; teams were pre-planned to win and all the plays were a big act.


Legitimacy later increased and more leagues developed, but the dramatic fashion statement really didn’t hit the scene hard until the early 2000s, when a Texas-based musician calling himself “Devil Dan” recruited women to skate in a circus-like derby match. Since then, crazy costumes have become the norm. The more extravagant, the better.


Today, derby apparel has taken on a much more meaningful significance. It points to a culture that is women-centric and challenges the boundaries of the prim-and-proper personality that stereotypes promote. “A lot of women really use that space to just do whatever the hell they want,” says Suzy Hotrod, long-time member of the Gotham Girls Roller Derby League. It’s a place to connect with other women in a sport where women have the floor and it’s totally acceptable to be tough and act a little crazy.


Since the early 2000s, the costumes have evolved into something of an expectation in a roller derby match. You can find athletic-grade makeup, fishnet stockings made specifically for sports, and tons of crazy costumes made just for the track. One thing’s for certain: this theatrical roller sport continues to grow in size and style, and leagues are now regularly sprouting up around the world.



Credit: Photo by Brett L. on Flickr


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