Gendered Clothing in the Sporting World

By Brittany C.

When you are growing up, something as simple as going to the store to buy clothes can be a confusing experience. You go in with your parents and they say, “Go have a look and pick something out”. So off you go through the store and you come across a bright blue t-shirt with a cool red car on the front. Your parents come around the corner and you point to the shirt with a big smile on your face, but your mother frowns and says “ Sweetie, why don’t we look for something in the girls’ section?” This isn’t a personal experience per say, but it’s something that I’m sure has happened to many young kids throughout their lives. The clothes we wear and they sections we buy them in define us. As young impressionable children who are still trying to figure out the world, we are socialized to shop in one part of the store, the men’s section or the women’s. Masculinity vs Femininity – our world today still enforces the difference between the two. This can also be found in the sporting goods stores of today. The participation of women in sport has increased from the past, and in the Olympics this year there were more women on the Canadian Olympic team than men. However, women still struggle to find what they need in a sports store without having to go to the men’s section.

I read an article about women’s rise in snowboarding which discussed female otherness and male superiority (Thorpe, 2005). This otherness and outsider feelings were caused by the media’s portrayal of the sport and the companies who supported the sport as a masculine dominant industry. When women first broke into the snowboarding scene, they had a hard time fitting in. It wasn’t until the first women’s clothing company was created that the participation of females in the sport started to increase. The author also pointed out that men created sport and for men which is 100% true. However, we have come a long way for women’s participation and success in sports. I believe a part of the participation increase was due to the fact that gear for the sport became available in the women’s section at the store. It was no longer seen as crossing the feminine line to do the sport as you could get everything you need in the women’s section. But not everything you might need for other sports can be found in the women’s section.

Attached is a picture I took recently in a sports store. It shows a rack at a store clearly labeled “Men’s” with hockey Canada jerseys hung on it.


Why is a national team jersey labeled as Men’s? There is a National Women’s hockey team and their jerseys are the exact same as the men. If we take a step back from the specifics of what the jersey actually is, we can see a different picture being painted. It’s a hockey jersey. It is something that represents a love for a sport, love for something that unites people, men and women, across our country. Hockey is a very masculine sport and women who are involved can be seen as so. If you ask most women who play hockey how they feel about the pink slim fitting jerseys that are found in the women’s section, they would tell you that they would rather not wear a jersey than wear that. Female participation in hockey has increased since I first started and we now see female hockey players as role models for younger girls. For those younger girls to get a jersey like their female role models wear, they have to venture to the other side of the store into the men’s section. Couldn’t we just have a shared sports attire section for both men and women, take the gender aspect out of it because both men and women participate in sport?


Thorpe, H. (2005) Jibbing the gender order: Females in the Snowboarding Culture, Sport in Society, 8(1), 76-100.





7 responses

  1. I love the illustration you use to describe and explain your points.

    One thing I thought of as I was reading your posts is that how it is more commonly accepted in our Western society for women to wear “typical” male clothing. With the male dominated norms and the assumptions that men are better than women it is interesting to see in many different situations women are allowed “in”. By this I mean that, when a woman is interested in something that is typically male centered, it is seen as allowing her into the elites. It is not so commonly accepted for a man to do something that is typically women centered because it would seem below him. I think this can help explain why that hockey jersey is labeled as men’s.

    Hockey still seen as a male dominated sport “allows” women to play because it “allows” them into this elite class, but hockey is not going to change for women who are “below” hockey. Allowing her to be a part of hockey means that she gets absorbed into being “one of the guys”. Therefore, they just expect her to buy the male jersey if she wants the real deal (not some pink version). Whereas, I would not be surprised if we saw something that was generally female dominated and males started to be interested in it, they would change the name or style to be more gender inclusive so that it was not below male standards. For example, instead of offering a blue version, they would offer it in male sizing (assuming it was not already pink).

    Just a thought.

    • Great use of a current picture (which is probably still hanging in the sports store now).
      I also didn’t know that women’s hockey jerseys were more of a slim fit than male jerseys. I haven’t to wear a hockey jersey since I played back in Novice II. The gear (regardless of the color) fits the same on men and women, for the most part, as we are anatomically shaped relatively the same and it covers our bodies the same. I can imagine a slim fitting jersey being uncomfortable for female hockey players.
      Such a good point, why can’t something as simple as a hockey jersey just be a hockey jersey for anybody who wants to wear it?

  2. Great post Brit!
    I could really relate to this post on a personal level. When I was younger I idealized my older brother so naturally I went through a tomboy phase where I would wear hammy down clothes from my brother. As I got older, I created my own style that still incorporated bagged sweaters that my brother grew out of. I remember one year before school started my mom asking me to dress a bit more girly. I’m pretty sure she was just joking because she never said anything more when I didn’t take her advice. I can only imagine what someones parents would say if they actually had a problem with their daughter dressing in boy clothes. Although I don’t wear my brothers old clothes anymore and try to dress a bit more “sophisticated”, when I travel for soccer or am in a “sport environment” in any way, I strictly wear my sporty clothes. This wardrobe consists of baggy sweats and all tight clothes are prohibited by preference. I hate that clothing has to be labeled with a gender. Clothes are clothes and if it looks good and feels good when you where it, it should matter who wears it. I am a girl and I can still look good in “boy clothes”.

  3. As I was reading your post, I was thinking about how my parents bought me a pink jersey when they went to see an NHL game when I was younger. The next day I wore it to school and was made fun of because my classmates did not think that it was considered a real jersey.
    By creating the pink jersey, it appears the sports market is categorizing men and women into different groups. It is almost as though they created the pink jersey to say “yes I am a girl, yes I like sports”. I think that some girls prefer to wear the pink jersey to maintain their femininity to prove that girls can also enjoy sports.
    I liked how you added the picture of something you saw in a sporting store. I cannot understand why it would be labelled “men” either. Just because it’s not pink doesn’t mean that all sporting hardware automatically goes to men. I think this all ties back to the gender role concept that we learned in the lectures. We are socialized to have certain expectations about how people should act and behave.
    But it really shouldn’t matter, you should just be yourself.
    I enjoyed reading your blog!

  4. Great post Brittany!

    As a former athlete I know all about choosing apparel when going into sporting stores, or purchasing team uniforms/tracksuits through the school. When I was in grade nine, the men’s basketball team had just received their brand new tracksuits and they were nice! My coaches were so intrigued that they thought the women’s team should have tracksuits too. However, the difference in quality when we received them was very noticeable and the tags were clearly labelled “Women’s”. If both our men’s and women’s teams are a part of, and representing, the same school, why did the coaches of the female basketball team feel obligated to purchase different tracksuits just so the tag was clearly labelled “Women’s” rather than “Men’s”?

    Also, every year, at the start of a new season, I would venture into Sport Chek, Cleeve’s, Footlocker, or what have you, to purchase a brand new pair of ball shoes (mainly because I would ware out the one’s for the previous season). Of course, naturally I would walk over to the women’s section where I would discover maybe two or three pairs of “basketball” shoes (not really) – either not in my size, the ugliest colour you could imagine, or the cheapest made shoes. Then I would look at the men’s section where I would see beautifully coloured shoes, made by the more expensive brand names, and of course they were the “newest version” or “must have” shoes at that specific time (i.e. Nike Hyperdunks; Air Jordans; etc.). In addition to this, if you would see the women’s team and the men’s team both dressed up in uniform, you would see the girls with the fowl-coloured, cheap, not-really-made-for-basketball shoes and you would see the boys with their bright-coloured, shiny new Hyperdunks, clearly bought from the “Basketball” section of the sport store (because they were tailor-made for the sport of basketball).

    I was the girl with the Hyperdunks. I wanted the shiny, colourful shoes that are actually made for basketball – they have traction, provide ankle support, and allow for movement. I think it is absolutely ridiculous for sports apparel to be labelled “Men’s” or “Women’s”. A basketball shoe is a basketball shoe and a hockey jersey is a hockey jersey. In terms of sport, making apparel that is strictly designated to either men or women doesn’t make a lot of sense. You’re playing a sport! Why would I, as a woman, want to venture out on to the basketball court wearing a slim, tightly fitted basketball jersey as opposed to a loosely fitted one that allows for air movement – designers and marketers are aware that women sweat too, right? I will forever be the girl who buys her sporting gear from the “Men’s” section.

  5. I think you did a great job with the article, and brought up some good points about clothes being unnecessarily gendered. But I would like to bring up the idea that maybe it’s not always men that have more in terms of options and quality.

    From my own experiences women have a lot more options in tack shops, there are more styles, colours, and a greater quantity of stock than there are for men. It is a lot easier to find pink helmets over a blue or green helmet. And I believe this has to do with the dominant gender in the sport. For horseback riding it is women, and so more clothing and gear is targeted towards women, but for sports like hockey and soccer it is still seen as a boys sport and so more products are targeted towards men.

    Another point to consider is men’s and women’s clothing are cut differently, men have longer clothing and women’s clothing generally has more room in the chest and have shorter shoulder seams.

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