You may think there's not a lot to skating dresses — just a bunch of sequins and dip-dyed chiffon — but according to Brad Griffies, the ice-skating costume designer who created the dress worn by U.S. champion Gracie Gold at this year's National Championships, there's a lot about these teeny tiny costumes you probably don't know.
1. Dresses can have up to 100,000 crystals each.
"Each crystal has to be applied by hand," Griffies says, "so the more crystals, the more expensive the dress." According to Griffies the dress itself usually only takes about 2-4 hours to make, but the crystals can take anywhere from 4-40 hours to apply.
2. Skaters usually only buy 1 or 2 costumes per season.
Skaters are more like real people than you'd think — they do, in fact, wear the same costume multiple times. "These costumes are expensive and skaters don't make a lot of money, so they usually wear the same ones all season," Griffies says. "The blue dress I made Gracie for the national championships cost $1,500, but I've made costumes for her that cost $3,000."
Gracie Gold at the 2014 national championships in a dress designed by Brad Griffies.
Some estimates put the most expensive skating dresses at around $5,000, but the actual number could be much higher, especially when someone like Vera Wang is designing. Wang famously made costumes for both Nancy Kerrigan and Michelle Kwan and is rumored to be designing Gracie's costumes for the Olympics as well. "As far as I know, Gracie will be wearing the same dresses at the Olympics that I designed for her for the national championships," Griffies says, "but if Vera Wang offers to work with her, who knows. I guess I'll find out when she skates."
Michelle Kwan and Nancy Kerrigan in costumes designed by Vera Wang.
3. The trend in figure skating costumes right now is towards sleeker, more minimal designs.
"Michelle Kwan was the first skater to popularize that more naked swimsuit-style look with the little straps," Griffies says. "Before her, everyone usually had their arms covered. Then that whole Russian thing happened with all that excessive ornament, but now things are starting to swing back towards the more sleek North-American style."
Griffies's own designs, he says, are inspired by Versace's evening gowns. "I wouldn't say they are copies, but they have a similar feeling. Designing a skating costume is harder than designing an evening gown, though. You don't have to move in an evening gown the way you do in a skating dress."
Ukranian skater Oksana Baiul (1994) and Russian Irina Slutskaya (2004) in ornate, "Russian-style" costumes at the Olympics.
4. The Biellmann spin is the move most likely to cause a nip slip.
A Biellmann spin is when a skater leans back and grabs her skate, lifting it over her head. Such an extreme stretch greatly increases the risk of a nipple-exposing wardrobe malfunction. "You don't always see it at the time, because the skater is spinning so fast, but it does happen," Griffies says. "I've had a few close calls myself, but luckily no one has been exposed yet. It's something I have to keep in mind, though."
Gracie Gold has a near nip-slip in a Biellmann spin.
5. Women can now wear unitards, but that wasn't always the case.
"After Debi Thomas wore that unitard in 1988, they made a rule that women had to wear skirts," Griffies says.
That same year, East German skater Katarina Witt wore her own unitard and created an even bigger controversy by wearing a blue leotard with feathers instead of a skirt. After that season, the rules were changed so that tights and a skirt were required for every female skater (in addition to unitards and pants being banned). The current rules, however, adopted in 2004, allow women to wear "skirts, trousers, and tights (including unitards)."
Debi Thomas and Katarina Witt in 1988
The rules for men are more restrictive. According to the US Figure Skating Association "men must wear trousers; no tights for men are permitted." Juliet Newcomer, the Director of Technical Services at the U.S. Figure Skating Association, AKA Head Rules Bitch, says the goal of this rule is to avoid excessive tightness around the crotch. "We want to keep things family-show appropriate," she says.
"I don't think it's a homophobic thing," Griffies says. "[But] skating's not as popular as it used to be and I think they don't want to scare anyone away. I know U.S. Figure Skating was not happy about that swan costume Johnny Weir wore. It had a beak that he named Camille. That's just Johnny, though. He does things no one else can. That's why he was the biggest star in skating, especially after Michelle Kwan left." (Newcomer, however, denies the claim that U.S. Figure Skating has any stance on that particular costume or any others, saying that although individuals may or may not approve of certain outfits, U.S. Figure Skating has "never made a formal statement about anyone's costume.")
Johnny Weir and "Camille" performing at the 2006 Winter Olympics.
6. Costumes that break the rules can cost skaters points.
There is a 1-point deduction (the same as a fall) for skaters whose costumes are deemed inappropriate. However, the rules for what is and is not appropriate are pretty vague and open to interpretation.
The first one (the biggie) is that clothing "must be modest, dignified, and appropriate for athletic competition, not garish or theatrical in design. Clothing may, however, reflect the character of the music." According to Juliet Newcomer, the rule is intentionally vague to allow for differences in culture. "Each judge [there are 9 of them] and the referee have a button they can press if they think the costume is out of line, but 6 out of the 10 have to hit that button in order for the deduction to occur."
7. The front of a dress cannot be more than 50 percent nude fabric.
Although this is a rule Griffies follows in his own designs, the official rule is much more vague: "clothing must not give the effect of excessive nudity inappropriate for athletic sport." Apparently mini skirts that barely cover one's crotch do not count.
8. Accessories are not allowed, but the rule is rarely enforced.
Most skaters ignore this rule, with many wearing earrings, hair accessories, or necklaces as part of their costumes. Gracie Gold wore all 3 during this year's national championships without receiving a penalty, and Michelle Kwan almost always wore a small gold necklace when she performed.
Michelle Kwan and Gracie Gold breaking the "no accessories" rule.
Props are also banned in competition, but are often used during special exhibition performances tied to bigger competitions like the Olympics. Back in 1972, silver medlaist Karen Magnussen performed at the Olympics using a small clear plastic umbrella as a prop.
Karen Magnussen at the Olympics in 1972 with her clear plastic umbrella.
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