As each Olympic cycle comes to a close and a new quad begins, new trends emerge. Not only do we see a shift in routine construction, whether it be the back to back tumbling passes of the late 1980s or 2015’s Year of the Wolf (Turn), we also get the pleasure of witnessing the gymnastics community’s interpretation of current fashion, hair and makeup styles. When all you’ve got is a leotard, it can be difficult to let your personality show through, but these ladies didn’t let that stop them from making a statement. Join us as we reminisce on the most popular hairstyles in women’s gymnastics, from early days of the sport all the way through the glitz and glamour of today!
The Bouffant, 1964-1968
Ah yes, the mid 60s…nothing like doing gymnastics with your Jackie O bouffant gloriously perched atop your teased crown. This look was the original business in the front, party in the back, before the volume moved exclusively to the bangs a few decades later. A few ladies who sported this elegant ‘do:
The 1972 Olympics are most fondly remembered as the year the public was introduced to Soviet pixie Olga Korbut, and with her, the trend of pigtails adorned with yarn bows. This was the exact moment that the age of gymnasts in the sport shifted from women to young girls, so it was out with the old debutante updos and in with the charming youths!
The Romanian Ponytail, 1973-1976
Undoubtedly the face of the Olympics this year was Nadia Comaneci. Ponytails existed before this quad, but were surprisingly NOT the go-to that they are today. I don’t know why anyone would choose an elaborate updo with a million hairpins (WHAT IF YOU FALL AND ONE STABS YOU IN THE SKULL, WHAT THEN?!) but Nadia’s sporty ponytail definitely secured the spot as THE top style in all quads from here on out.
The Bowl Cut, 1977-1980
Hark! A new trend arises! The short hair trend emerged in the late 70s and was the overwhelming favorite for a decade. It fizzled out a bit by the mid 90s with Kerri Strug and Amanda Borden of the Magnificent Seven being some of the last to embrace the trend, but Svetlana Khorkina proudly carried the torch for short hair fans everywhere, all the way up until the 2000 Olympics. This quad’s look was kind of a loose and shapeless style, inspired by the popularity of Princess Diana and figure skater Dorothy Hamill’s feathery crops. Nadia Comaneci even returned to the 1980 Olympics with the on-trend gender neutral bowl cut!
The Permed Bang, 1981-1984
The short hair trend continued into the early 80s, morphing into more of a mullet shape and embracing a bit of feathering around the face, but Mary Lou Retton’s signature short hair did not end up dominating the quad. That title goes hands down to the permed bang. Different from the feathered bang of later quads, the permed bang is a style all its own – just ask the entire 1984 Romanian Olympic team.
The Permed Hair Pile, 1985-1988
In the mid-80s, the previous two quads combined powers to form the Ultimate Gym Hair. Never has a trend made such a powerful statement, featuring both the drama of a short, above the ears cut and the whimsy of a tight ringlet curl. Towards the beginning of the quad, it leaned towards a light cumulus cloud of ear-length curls, but then slowly began inching higher and higher until Daniela Silivas wrapped things up in ’88 with her AMAZING sky high poof of curls. You know what they say – the higher the hair, the closer to God! REVEL IN IT.
The Feathered Bang, 1989-1992
Different from the permed bang of the early ’80s, the feathered bang featured the same end goal (Maximum Bang) but different execution. Lots of backcombing and teasing resulted in the epitome of style for the turn of the decade, with the ideal look a lightweight halo of hair across the forehead. Whether you finished it off with a ponytail or bun, a scrunchie was required.
Maximum Scrunchie, 1993-1996
The hair accessory trend turned the corner from bows to scrunchies in the previous quad, with the scrunchies growing larger by the year until finally maxing out at the 1996 Olympics. Just look at Lilia Podkopayeva, for whom one scrunchie was not enough. Voluminous bangs and short hair were still quite prevalent as well, but look, I lived through this era. If your scrunchie was not big enough for 50% of it to be visible from the front, you were doing it 100% wrong.
The 1996 Hungarian Olympic Team
Dep & Hair Clips, 1997-2000
Do you guys remember Dep? What about LA Looks? If you needed your hair game to be on point, you likely had an arsenal of these gels. Combined with Aquanet and those triangular flippy hair clips, you were in business. You achieved this look by starting with your hair soaking wet, coating the front four inches or so with a fistful of gel, and combing it back with either a fine-tooth comb or a bristle brush to ensure no flyaways. Then at the end of the day when you take your hair down, you can remove all of the pins and clips and elastics and it doesn’t even matter because your hair has now formed into a helmet and it’ll take you a good 15 minutes washing with Pert Plus to remove the gel’s leftovers. Anyway, that’s where hair took us at the end of the ’90s – even Khorkina and her riot grrl pixie cut couldn’t resist the wet hair gel vibes. We also see the scrunchie trend begin to wane…fear not, though. Though you physically get smaller, you are but strong and mighty.
Carrying over a bit from the previous quad, we’re now mixing hair gel with glitter. This quad was all about ramping things up in the bling department, so naturally the hair and make-up trends came along for the ride. Seriously, look at the above leotards and then scroll down. Leotards are mostly shinier thanks to the advent of Mystique fabric (Swarovski crystals didn’t explode into abundance on every leotard to exist ever until later in the decade), but it’s cute to look back and see the shimmery trend really begin to dig its heels in everything gymnastics.
Overly-Straight Ponytail, 2005-2008
It’s fascinating how almost every quad so far has been a fan of the ponytail but how each generation embraces it differently. When did you get a straightener? I got my first one in 2004 and HOO BOY did no one know how to use those things. So much straight hair. EVERYONE MUST HAVE STRAIGHT HAIR. Even girls with straight hair were straightening their hair. Goodbye to the desirable volume and body of the 90s, and hello to stick-straight and swingy ponies. We also see bows begin to make a comeback, but not in the style of Olga or Nadia. No, no. This is the 2000s, baby! We’re going full cheerleader!
Alicia Sacramone & Sam Peszek
The Messy Bun, 2009-2012
This quad was all about the half pull-through “bun.” You know, the thing on pinterest you always see and you’re just like WHY WON’T MY HAIR DO THAT AND LOOK CUTE. That thing. It’s been around since the 90s, but in this quad it became the go-to style statement that says “I’m not a regular gymnast, I’m a cool gymnast.” Though the hair was a mess, this quad’s competitors brought the eye makeup A game, with Russia’s Aliya Mustafina known more for her smoky hot #shadowgoals than for winning the gold medal on bars.
The Ballerina Bun, 2013-2016
The gymnasts of the current quad have really stepped it up in the hair department, and honestly, I’m finally impressed. Martha Karolyi laid down the law for the U.S. national team about competition hair being too messy, and clearly she should be in charge of everything because daaaaaaaayum do these gals look amazing. All of the best trends of years past minus the crunchy gel of the 90s plus the dramatic makeup (shoutout again to Aliya Mustafina for kicking this off in 2010)? Girl, hold onto your red lipstick cuz this look is going places. We’ve got a heavy focus on a neat ballerina bun, minimal clips, and a statement lip to match. What’s not to love?
Simone Biles & Gabby Douglas
Aliya Mustafina (okay, so she stuck by her glitter gel, but she but WORKS IT)
Super perm or pin straight, yarn bows or glitter gel, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter WHAT your hair looks like if you’re racking up medals like a boss. Simone Biles could show up at the Olympic Games fully bald this summer and Aliya Mustafina could be sporting the latest in mohawk fashion, but as long as they’re kicking butt in the sport they love, I’m on board.
Article by Erika Peterson