White shorts day: in many codes, it’s the day when the “away” team wears predominantly white to avoid jumper clashes on the field or court. But is it time for this tradition to end?
A new Victoria University study asked girls across Australia aged 12-18 what sporting uniforms they felt most comfortable in while playing sport with the aim of helping increase female participation.
And if the results are any indication, a national conversation about whether to phase out white shorts in sport should be taking place.
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According to researcher, Professor Clare Hanlon, 64 per cent of the 727 girls surveyed would prefer to wear dark-coloured bottoms during sport.
“We can have great facilities and fantastic programs, but if girls don’t feel comfortable, in what they wear, you’re going to be flat out getting them to the venue,” she says.
“There is a need to identify, be proactive and consider what girls want, what makes them feel comfortable, and confident and ready to actually get out onto the court or the field.”
Hanlon says she was amazed by the overwhelming number of responses that said: ‘Please stop making us wear white bottoms’.
“Teenage girls are self-conscious,” Hanlon explains.
“One of the girls wrote in her response: ‘I’d prefer to wear blue or black shorts, I have white shorts now and every month I get really concerned about leaking and that people can see too much’.
“And that typifies the other responses that the girls made (about white shorts) and we need to be conscious of that.”
AFLW star and Richmond captain Katie Brennan has put her support behind the push for further discussions around the traditional “white shorts day” – whereby the away team wears white shorts – in football and whether it should be changed to make female footballers feel more comfortable.
“In the AFL women’s, we still run around in white shorts for our away uniform, and I think that’s something that we could start to have a really powerful conversation about, particularly for girls entering their time of the month and their menstrual cycle while playing elite sport,” Brennan told the ABC.
Hanlon agrees: “We had a number of people respond saying they’d quit sport because of what they had to play in because it reduced their confidence.
“Particularly girls aged 12-14 are an incredibly vulnerable age group, where they are self-conscious, puberty hits, they go from primary to secondary school and they are very conscious about their body image.
“How are we going to encourage girls to go out and be physically active? We need to be considerate and listen to the needs of the girls.”
The Vic Uni study found that girls were looking for choice when it came to what they wore and they didn’t want unisex uniforms.
It found more than 85 per cent of the girls said they would prefer to wear shorts and a T-shirt and more than 60 per cent don’t want to wear skirts.
The move towards offering greater choice is being heard by one of the most traditional women’s sports – netball – with clubs and even whole associations moving away from the compulsory skirt/dress.
Victoria’s Gold City Netball Association has told its clubs they are free to offer the shorts/T-shirt option for the first time this winter, while the Aldgate Netball Club in the Adelaide Hills this week unveiled its new shorts/singlet option which will be available as an alternative to its A-line dress.
Aldgate president Amy Park said the club felt the move fostered a sense of inclusivity.
“Conversations about a new uniform originated in wanting to introduce an option for male players, but we quite quickly found our sentiment changed to wanting to provide a uniform option for all of our club members,” Park says.
“We never want uniform to be a barrier to play.”
International sport companies are also adapting to changing sentiment as more and more women play traditionally male sports.
As footy boots and cricket shoes are now manufactured for female feet, other innovations are also being made, designed to protect the woman’s chest.
One company leading this innovation is Geelong-based Zena Sport, which launched a vest in 2020 that weighs only 160g, fits over the top of the player’s bra and absorbs significant impact on the chest that might came from a tackle, a chest mark or impact at ground level.
The brain child of former Western Bulldogs great Brad Johnson and his wife, Donna, the Zena Vest is now being worn by more than 60 AFLW players and is expanding into other contact and high-impact sports including rugby, softball, basketball, boxing, lacrosse and roller derby.
Johnson, who played 364 games across a 17-season career, says research conducted through Deakin University, found that when using an 11kg pendulum swinging at 30km/hr, the vest absorbed 75 per cent of the impact to the breast and ribs, which not only offered protection, but aided recovery.
Among those now wearing the vest are Richmond’s Sabrina Frederick and Melbourne captain Daisy Pearce.
Pearce, who returned to football in 2020 after giving birth to twins, says: “The physicality of footy is one of my favourite parts of the game, but I must admit, I don’t love copping an elbow to the boob or knee in the ribs.
“I was coming back to footy last year and still breastfeeding so didn’t hesitate in giving it a go. Now, just like my boots and my mouthguard … I don’t feel ready to go out and play until I’ve got it on.”
Hanlon says tennis greats Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka are among those proving to girls the worth of wearing whatever they felt comfortable in: Williams wore a one-legged bodysuit during February’s Australian Open, while Osaka wore leggings underneath her skirt.
“Girls want function over fashion, they want material that hides sweat and is stretchy, they want dark-coloured bottoms and they want choice, to wear leggings or tracksuit pants or T-shirts or singlets, or long sleeves,” Hanlon says.
Over to the associations, clubs and sportswear manufacturers …