The evolution of the wrestling singlet has been a long and varied one. While uniform styles have changed over time, form-fitting clothing has a long tradition in wrestling, dating back to the early days of the sport.
Sure—the earliest recorded historical accounts of wrestling didn't include much in the way of "uniforms"—or apparel for that matter. But as the sport began to take shape and develop into something more organized around the turn of the 20th century, so too did the design of wrestling equipment. The earliest uniforms were often little more than a pair of trunks and possibly a shirt, but as the sport became more popular and widespread, the apparel of the sport began to develop more.
While it's true that the design of the wrestling singlet has evolved over time, it's important to note that the form-fitting nature of the outfit has been a part of wrestling since its inception as an organized sport. In fact, this style of clothing actually offers wrestlers an advantage in terms of mobility, flexibility, and avoiding the grip of an opponent.
Early Singlets (1920s - 1950s)
The first organized national wrestling tournament in the USA happened in 1888, and by the 1920s, the sport had exploded in popularity. This was also around the time that the first wrestling “uniform” began to take shape. These early singlets were the first form-fitting uniform designs that some amateur and professional wrestlers began to don.
You may have seen some old photos or footage of wrestlers from this era wearing what looks like a black one-piece bathing suit over a pair of tights. While it may not look like much compared to today's singlets, this was a major step forward in terms of form-fitting, functional wrestling attire.
While these tights and singlets didn't have the same flashy designs or colors that we see in wrestling uniforms today (hey, most of the footage was in black and white anyway), it was a tight-fitting one-piece that did its job in terms of functionality. They gave wrestlers the mobility and flexibility they needed to execute their moves while also providing some level of protection from an opponent's grip.
These forerunners of modern singlets survived well into the 1950s. However, sometime before the end of World War II, a new style of wrestling apparel was beginning to appear at colleges around the country.
Wrestling Tights & Trunks (1940s - 1960s)
Sometime in the 1940s, American college wrestlers began ditching the old one-piece black singlets in favor of tight-fitting trunks over tights, with or without a shirt. In the 1960s, the NCAA banned shirtless wrestling, requiring wrestlers to wear a 3 piece uniform with a sleeveless shirt, tight fitting trunks, and full length tights. Believe it or not, the singlet was actually banned by the NCAA for a number of years.
Singlets (1960s - Today)
In the 1960s and 1970s, the singlet started to make its way into the college wrestling ring. The singlet is a one piece form-fitting uniform that provides coverage for the wrestler's body, except for the head, neck, arms, knees, and legs
The singlet design became popular because it offered wrestlers more mobility and flexibility than the three piece uniform, while still providing a good amount of coverage. It quickly became the standard uniform for college and amateur wrestlers, and remains a common sight at tournaments and practices to this day.
While the style of singlets has changed somewhat over the years, the basic design remains the same. Modern singlets are made from stretchy, form-fitting materials, and come in a variety of colors and designs. Today, it's even possible to design your own custom wrestling singlet, which is a far cry from the black singlets of the early 20th century. There are several types and cuts to choose from as well.
While wrestling apparel has changed quite a bit since the sport's early days, the form-fitting design of the uniform has remained fairly constant. This is because it provides wrestlers with the coverage, flexibility, and mobility they need to compete at the highest levels. Avoiding an opponent's grip is a key advantage of the wrestling singlet over shorts, trunks, and other looser-fitting clothing.
So the next time you see a wrestler in a singlet, remember that this style of uniform has a long and rich history dating back to the early days of organized American wrestling.
And if you're a wrestler yourself who chooses to wear a singlet, you can be proud to know that you're carrying on the tradition—and enjoying the functional benefits—of one of the oldest and most iconic styles of wrestling uniform.