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Cheerleading underwear are the clothes worn by cheerleaders close to their skin while performing their routines. In line with uniforms as a whole, a cheerleader’s underwear is regulated. This is to ensure the ensemble’s clothes are tasteful and keep with the school’s colors. All members of the same cheerleading squad tend to wear identical clothes.
Any garment worn close to the skin and under other garments is considered underwear. Traditionally, this refers to panties, briefs and boxers. It also extends to socks, stockings and bras. Shorts, t-shirts and nightclothes, when worn with no other clothes underneath, are also considered forms of underwear. Such clothing can be purely practical or, like with lingerie, decorative.
Since the early 1900s, the cheerleading uniform has represented schools and teams. Their color schemes would be designed to fit that of the school or team the cheerleaders belonged to. The uniforms would also bear the school’s logo. Modern cheerleading underwear is sometimes also stamped with the school's logo.
Early uniforms included ankle-length skirts and long cardigans. The skirts were made of heavy wool. Cheerleaders would wear polo shirts under their cardigans. The style did not change much until the 1960s when the length of the skirt began to shrink.
In the 1960s and 70s, the cardigans were first replaced with sweaters and then the lighter garments that continued into the 21st century. At the same time, the clothes became tighter-fitting and more revealing. Professional squads such as the American football team the Dallas Cowboys’ began revealing their midriffs.
Cheerleading underwear first became important during this era for two reasons: the shorter skirts and the ever more complex routines. Shorter skirts made the more complex routines safer, but tricks such as high kicks and toe-touches revealed what the cheerleaders were wearing underneath.
Garments worn under the skirts are the most controversial element of cheerleading underwear. The National Federation of High School Associations (NFHS) states that skirts should be 12 to 14 inches (30 to 35cm) and should be 2 inches (5 cm) longer than standard briefs and 1.5 inches (4.25 cm) longer than boy-cut briefs. Briefs tend to be made out of spandex or polyester and are alternatively known as lollies and spankies. Professional squads have their own rules and a greater variety of underwear.
Other types of cheerleading underwear include sports bras and socks. Such bras provide better support for breasts during strenuous exercises. The crossed straps at the back also reduce pressure on the shoulder muscles. Socks began in the 1900s as short socks and stayed that way until the 1980s when slouch socks and wigwam slouch socks became more popular. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, either ankle socks or knee-high socks dominated team uniforms.