If you’ve been hanging around The Gloss for the past few weeks, you know we’re pretty into the figure skating portion of the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. We’ve brought you the best costumes ever, the worst costumes ever, as well as our commentary on the costumes in men’s and pairs skating, not to mention the amazing contortionists of the ladies’ short program. And as much as we love to snark on the sometimes ridiculous costumes that skaters wear, the reality is that those outfits are carefully designed, meticulously constructed and damn expensive.
I did a little research on what it takes to design, create and pay for those sparkly pieces of Spandex, and wow. There seems to be a huge range as to what elite level costumes can actually cost, but I was told everything from $500 up to $5000, with the most common estimation for an Olympic skating costume at around $3000. Skaters competing at a high level, like in the Olympics, usually have two costumes per season, one for their long program and one for their short program. They also might have an additional third one that they can wear in exhibitions (performances that happen after a competition is over and are not judged). A skater might spend up to $10,000 a year just on costuming.
Why, exactly, do these skimpy little outfits cost so much? Skating costumes tend to follow the general trends in fashion, except with a lot more glitz and glamour. Marni Halasa, a figure skating coach at Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers in New York City, explains:
“Today, skating costumes take cues from fashion’s runways and popular culture, perhaps with an emphasis on dresses being more tailored and designed for the skater and the music of their program. Currently, we are seeing costumes that are designed to be less gawdy, showing more of the line of the body, with quality fabrics that highlight color.”
Halasa often works with with designer Stephanie Handler (who made 2014 Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu‘s costume and has also designed several for Johnny Weir). Costumes for competitions like Olympics or the World Championships must be designed very carefully, Halasa says, because “…the costume truly is on the world stage, under the scrutiny of skating judges, the public and television close-ups. Because of these requirements, the elite-level costume requires a lot of thought, a unique, often more sophisticated design, better-quality materials, more rhinestones and definitely more hours of labor.” Basically, it’s a custom couture outfit designed for heavy athletic activity.
Yumi Barnett-Nakamura, who designs costumes for her company Yumi Couture, describes the design process:
“I work directly with the skaters and coaches. First they send me their music and this helps me to start developing design ideas. I talk to the coaches a lot when developing the design and also with the skaters to understand their tastes and preferences. For example, some skaters like long sleeves and other insist on no sleeves. Sometimes I wait until they complete the program choreography, especially with the top competitive skaters. I go to the rink to watch the program and discuss with the coach and skater how the costume can highlight parts of the program and what parts of the dress need to be changed to enhance the program. This process gives me a good image of the dress design that allows me to complete a drawing to show to the coaches and skater. A deep knowledge about competitive skating goes into developing the design. After they review the design I may make changes to the design, get the coach’s and skater’s approval and begin making the dress. It takes about two months to complete a costume.”