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Why are Volleyball Shorts So Short and Tight?

Updated on September 08, 2016
Mandy M S profile image

Mandy is a mom of 4 and a long time volleyball enthusiast and coach. Mandy's other interests include, parenting, teaching and literature..

Many people want to know why volleyball spandex are so short and tight.  A fun spandex quote:  Volleyball is our passion, Spandex is our fashion.
Many people want to know why volleyball spandex are so short and tight. A fun spandex quote: Volleyball is our passion, Spandex is our fashion.

As a volleyball coach, a question I often get asked by parents who are new to the game is, "Why are the volleyball shorts so tiny?"

Everyone seems to have an opinion on this. Some people claim it's for sex appeal and to lead to more spectators (if this was the goal, it was a failure!). Some people think it's because young girls just love strutting their stuff now-a-days. And some point their fingers to history and physics to explain why the girls wear these shorts.

As a coach, and as a woman, I can empathize with parents and players are uncomfortable with the shorts. I played volleyball in the 90s (The era of baggy pants and flannel!) when bun huggers were just going OUT of style and before the current spandex had really taken hold. I started my volleyball career wearing basketball length shorts and loose long sleeve jerseys. I finished it wearing short, spandex length shorts and a cap sleeved jersey. I felt uncomfortable enough in the short shorts, having all that leg exposed! I can completely empathize with girls and parents who wished there was a little more modesty in volleyball. If I had to wear the uniform my players do, I would be uncomfortable! But my players don't want to play in any other kind of shorts.

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What kind of shorts do you think volleyball players should wear?

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Bun huggers were very popular for many years. These  volleyball uniforms had shorter shorts, but baggier tops than most teams today.
Bun huggers were very popular for many years. These volleyball uniforms had shorter shorts, but baggier tops than most teams today.
After the bun huggers went out of style, there was a period where teams found the middle ground for their volleyball shorts.
After the bun huggers went out of style, there was a period where teams found the middle ground for their volleyball shorts.
The baggy clothes of the 90s led many volleyball teams to switch to a baggier uniform like basketball players were wearing.
The baggy clothes of the 90s led many volleyball teams to switch to a baggier uniform like basketball players were wearing.

The History of Volleyball Shorts

Volleyball was invented in late 1800s but was primarily a men's game in the beginning. It wasn't played by women at the international level until the 1950s and it didn't become a widespread college and high school level sport until the 70s after the NAIA and NCAA had introduced it as a varsity level sport.

The women's volleyball uniforms of the 70s reflected the fashion of the time. Mid length shorts, form fitting (but not tight) shirts.

As the synthetic material spandex became more popular in the late 1970s many teams started switching over to spandex as part of their uniform. Both in the United States and internationally, women were wearing what was commonly referred to as "bun huggers" with greater frequency. These spandex bottoms resembled a bikini brief. They were a higher cut "short" that allowed for full range of motion. One of the downfalls to this particular cut of volleyball short was that the shorts would commonly "ride up" and find themselves uncomfortably wedged in one's bottom, exposing greater amounts of the rear end than intended or wanted.

Bun huggers held on for quite a long time, despite their many drawbacks. It really wasn't until the late 80s, early 90s when teams started transitioning back to more traditional shorts styles. I remember in 1994 talking to a friend about the horror that was our volleyball uniform and then being thankful that we didn't have to wear the old school bun huggers that some of the other schools wore. So they weren't completely phased out at that point!

In the late 90s the spandex volleyball shorts started to come back into style. This time with a little more length to them. Originally many teams had a longer style 4" spandex short as they transitioned out of the traditional shorts and back into the spandex shorts. But the teams often quickly moved to the 2" spandex shorts. The longer shorts just moved too much. The players would find themselves tugging at them to get them back into place or finding too much material had creeped upward into uncomfortable locations.

At this time, nearly every female volleyball team in the united states wears the spandex short as part of their uniform. I have personally witnessed some schools that wear a more traditional mid-thigh short instead of the spandex short (often private religious-based schools), this is often because the uniform is in violation of the school dress code. Ironically, I have discovered that nearly all of those players wear the spandex under those shorts to avoid exposure when diving and rolling.

Why Are Spandex Preferred in Women's Volleyball Today?

This is the hot-button debate, isn't it?

Despite what many may have you believe. The shorts were not chosen with a desire to sexualize your daughters or to add sex appeal and spectators to the sport. The shorts were chosen for comfort and practicality.

First and foremost in the reason for choosing the spandex shorts used today is because of range of motion. The spandex short does not, in any way, inhibit its occupants range of motion. Volleyball is a sport often played while flying through the air or very low to the ground and these motions require flexible clothing. Try doing 50 lunges in your traditional shorts and see where your shorts wind up, especially if you have larger thighs like many female back row players do. The material moves and bunches in traditional shorts, but it moves MUCH less in the short spandex shorts. The same goes with repetitive jumping.

Next, do a few backwards somersaults in your traditional shorts. Have someone snap a picture of you in mid-somersault. See where your shorts are? Are your underwear exposed? When you stand up are the shorts bunched up in weird ways? Yes, that's another reason for the spandex short over a more traditional short. Volleyball players often dive, do a shoulder roll and are back up and ready to play in a matter of seconds. Spandex will allow for freedom of motion without having to worry about exposing something you didn't intend to!

Also, spandex have moisture wicking properties which also offers its advantages. In reality, they are as comfortable as wearing your underwear, if not more comfortable than your underwear. For experienced players who have gotten over the body consciousness of getting used to the spandex, they are just a part of the uniform they put on. Many players never have to adjust or think about again.

Finally, the volleyball players I know DO really enjoy wearing them. They find them fashionable and comfortable. They love finding new spandex to wear to practice in bright colors and patterns. Nike has really established a niche market with their Nike Pro spandex shorts. They are always talking about the new patterns that Nike has come out with and admitting their jealousy when somebody has a new pair. So there IS an element of vanity and fashion to it, but they wouldn't have lasted this long for vanitys sake, and they certainly wouldn't have made it to the international stage if fashion and vanity was the only rationale!

Spandex as a Uniform

Just wait, I can hear you thinking, "If spandex are so advantageous to volleyball players, why don't the Men's teams wear them?"

Well, there are a couple of quick explanations for this. First of all, it really isn't fashionable for men to wear itty bitty spandex shorts, neither is it practical considering the differing equipment that men are born with. Women may have LESS to worry about when wearing spandex, while men would actually have more to worry about.

Second of all, the advantages it lends to women are reduced in men. Men's thighs are generally a different shape and so they are less likely to have shorts ride up. Also, women play the game different than men do. For women the game is more about flexibility and agility than it is for men. The men's game is really dominated by power over agility. Not that they don't have players who go to the floor! They do! It's just a different type of game than the women play. They don't necessarily use the same types of motions in the same quantities that the women do.

What Do YOU think?

Now that you have read the history of the shorts and the reasons why volleyball players wear those little spandex shorts, what do you think? Are you buying it? Do you wish the uniform would change? Do you find the shorts to be sexist? Let the world know what you think, leave a comment below!


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    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 20 months ago

      I am very sorry to hear that sex appeal might not be the answer. I shall, in mourning, relegate myself to watching women's beach volleyball. It's a tough job but somebody's gotta do it.

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      Daphine 10 months ago

      I don't like the answer. Sports clothing has changed and geared to fit the athlete. WE NEED TO CHANGE THE RULES FOR THIS- LOOK AT LONGER SHORTS FOR OUR GIRLS.

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      Emma 6 months ago

      I too played college and varsity volleyball back in the 1980s, when bun huggers were mandatory. Actually, I liked them. More forgiving than spandex but more feminine and way more practical for movement than baggy shorts.

      Now, my daughter is about to start playing indoor VB for her college, and she has no choice but wear the spandex. This despite the fact that bun huggers are compulsory for track events, in which she also competes, in the summer. She has seen my old team photos and asked her coach why they can't play in buns - apparently several of her teammates, who are also T&F athletes, would prefer them. She has been told it's not possible 'because no other college teams wear them.'

      If that logic had been applied in the 1990s the sport would never have switched away from the bun huggers. So why can't some teams choose them now?

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      Kelsey 5 months ago

      I voted for bun huggers. We wear them for track and they're great. Like Emma I don't understand why we can't have them for volleyball too.

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      concerned dad 6 weeks ago

      So why don't women's basketball, who are arguably making more athletic and in larger amplitude and frequency not wearing them?

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      Current volleyball player 6 weeks ago

      I am a volleyball player and I enjoy the spandex. Sure at first I was a little uncomfortable in them but I got use to it and I wouldn't practice in any other kind of short. I can move easily and sure they are short but this allows me to stay cool. Because I am constantly hot while playing. And if they were lose then my legs would constantly get tangled in the shorts. I know this because for pe we have to wear soccer shorts and they are super uncomfortable and I can't move around easily in then. We shouldn't get rid of spandex. Plus they are super fun getting fun designs and colors.

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