Why are Volleyball Shorts So Short and Tight?

Updated on September 8, 2016
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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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      Anne 6 days ago


      I am requesting that her region for club volleyball allow her to wear the slightly loose fitting shorts for games. I will wait to see what they say. I think that more parents should request what they want and be bold. Don't let someone else tell you how it has to be. Call that office, email the region and national volleyball associated with your team. Stand up for the fact that your daughter deserves to reserve the exact shape of her body for her husband if she so chooses. Ok, no more ranting! g'night

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      Anne 6 days ago

      My daughter wears nike shorts that are not too long and are not form fitting. They never ride up, she never has to touch them. They shouldn't interfere with diving or any movements in volleyball. In college, I played volleyball and we wore shorts that were slippery, nylon probably, and fitting but not form fitting. The spandex are completely unreasonable to encourage children to wear. I think most women, men, mothers and dads have lost their minds if they think that this doesn't matter.

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      CC 2 weeks ago

      Sounds like more BS!!!

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      Lynn 2 months ago

      It is a very functional uniform. That's it. I played college volleyball in the 90's and it's very much about allowing movement without riding up. Stop making it about seducing someone! That's not the case! It's about athletes competing in a sport. I have a daughter and she is very modest in what she wears. She has no misconceptions about the fact that this is her uniform in volleyball and it doesn't bleed over into her everyday attire. For the argument that boys/men should wear spandex if this is better for movement?! Seriously?! Their bodies are different and girls/women would be constantly pulling baggy shorts down.

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      Volleyball Mom 3 months ago

      I appreciate the column above - honestly, I was in high school in the late 80s - I like volleyball but there was no way in the world that I was going to play volleyball wearing "bun huggers" - so the uniform actually kept me from trying out or playing (who knows what hidden talent I might have) - but here's my one big question: "WHY DON'T MEN WEAR TINY LITTLE SPANDEX SHORTS?" if it really is all for "range of motion and coverage when you are digging" - wouldn't men have the same issue? If men can perform well in normal shorts - why can't ladies & girls?

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      Christie 3 months ago

      I think our young girls are getting so use to wearing short shorts or thongs at the beach that they are and have become seducers and do not have any innocents lefts or conscious of what is appropriate and what is seducing our fathers, sons, uncles and grandfathers. Their short shorts do NOT make them any better a volleyball player!! Since the boys volleyball players are much better than the girls, why don't the boys change over to Speedos ? I think we have sold our girls to what men like to look at , your daughters butts. They girl's volleyball short shorts offend us women that are mothers , grandmothers, aunts and and even an innocent child. We put up with it all in the name of "not wanting to offend anyone" so we sit silently and let the men stare at our daughters butts. If it were not so, why are us women so shocked when we go out to buy their shorts, that we have to be talked into purchasing these ? " Is it because everyone tells us " ALL of the girls wear them" so we cave into peer pressure. Heaven forbid if my daughter does not fit into these groups......after all she won't have friends because I wear clothes that are in moderation and I do not wear clothes that allow men to look and then think about my butt every time I bend over to bump or dig for that ball. When will this seduction stop ??? Who has the guts to dress our girls in clothing that is appropriate and not seducing our men and boys ? If it does not bother you anymore, maybe you have become that frog that has been swimming in warm water and as the water slowly turns to boil, you just

      boil to death because you got use to it all.

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      Connie 4 months ago

      I think the short volleyball shorts are awful. I had a granddaughter that plays volleyball for her middle School and it is awful to see all of the girls, and I mean all of the girls after every point dig in their crotches and rear ends to pull their shorts out of their female areas. How is that comfortable for the girls to play in. Please. This is just a way to have our young girls flaunt their bodies in front of the opposite sex and call it fashionable and more comfortable. This is rubbish. Long spandex shorts for bike riding could be just as fashionable and be just as comfortable and thus reducing all of the digging!

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      Robert 5 months ago

      I am a father of a 15 year old girl.

      She went to volleyball camp. The coach told them the have to wear spandex shorts. i am guessing that is is the high school uniform My daughter is a size 4 pants She wears medium size loose fitting shirts We went to dicks sports. She bought a pair of nike XL shorts. The short had no loose fabric at all. They are form fitting every where except the waist. The legs are 4" long. I think size small and medium are for girls with eating disorder, TO cut off circulation, or to attract attention. the other girls pull the short up as high as they can.

      My daughter IN HER WORDS said some of them you can see there lady parts. Are the shorts all made for kindergarten players? If you google search woman's volleyball image. Alot of the pictures are of their back side bent over. Some of them with major wedgies. You can tell me it's all about function all you want. We all know it's 90% fashion. Just don't FORCE girl volleyball players to wear clothes that treat them as sex object instead of athletes.

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      Randall Krause 6 months ago

      Your argument for why boys and men can't wear spandex shorts is counter-intuitive. Many male athletes already wear compression shorts underneath their regular athletic gear because they provide support and ventilation without limiting mobility. So from a practical perspective, spandex would actually be a benefit for male volleyball players, not a hindrance. And to suggest that they wear different uniforms because they engage in radically different maneuvers is absurd. The fact of the matter is, there is no compelling reason for why male volleyball players should not wear spandex shorts other than to maintain a double standard of fashion.

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      Current volleyball player 11 months 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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      concerned dad 11 months 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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      Kelsey 15 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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      Emma 16 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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      Daphine 20 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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      poetryman6969 2 years 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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