Why I Wear What I Wear

GQ - November 1988


What kind of an image do you want to present on the ice?

Very athletic. Very strong. I'm big for a skater, five foot eleven. A lot of skaters are really light and quick. The way to deal with my size is to create an image that's strong, and with a long line. I try to use my size as an advantage rather than a disadvantage.

You started a trend among figure skaters by wearing three-quarter Lycra pants in practice. What's this about?

It was something I started doing in 1985 after I saw runners in California wearing them, and I thought, These are so convenient. Skaters wear spandex pants that are flared at the bottom, and that means that you have to hook them on the front and on the back of the skates. With these Lycra pants, you can just pull them over the skates. It's quicker, easier, your blades don't catch on the pants. You can buy them in any store. I've started collecting them now. I must have thirty or forty pairs. But I wear them only in practice. As a rule, judges like the flared spandex for theatrics. In competition, they want the costume to match the music, to contribute to the theatrics of the performance.

Any Favorites?

Oh, yeah. Before the Olympics, I wore my lucky pair to train in. They're by a biking company, Campagnola. Royal blue in the front, a white separation up the leg, then navy blue in the back.

Who designs your costumes?

Jennifer Langberg. She's wonderful, very professional. We work well together. I give her the music and tell her that I want the costume to be simple, masculine and sporty. She'll do three or four drawings for me, and if none of them are right, she'll go back to the drawing board. But among them I'll usually like what she comes up with.

So what you wear is important in terms of your performance?

Absolutely. It can be key to a performance. A lot of times you go out there and the coliseum is hot, sweltering. If you're bundled up in a hot outfit, your strength will be zapped. You have to be comfortable with what you perform in or you're dead. For the Olympics, I had three of the military costumes made, and I used to practice in one of them so I could get used to the high Napoleonic collar, the cummerbund and the ropework, the gold embroidery. Also, the buttons would whistle, and that distracted me. I had a uniform for the National Championships that had huge epaulets dangling from the shoulders, and we got rid of them for the Olympics. It was probably a ten-pound outfit. I couldn't stretch, I couldn't move, so for the Olympics I told my designer that I just couldn't handle it.

Can a skater overdo it with a costume?

Yeah. Sometimes you can really overdo it. It's got to be subtle yet enough. You've got to know exactly where to stop. That's why the designer can be so important. I've seen girls beaded from here down to there-I mean, just beads. And I hate that. I really hate gaudiness. But you see a lot of it in this business.

Who's well dressed on the circuit?

I think Karyn Kadavy and Jill Trenary are the best-dressed girls on the American circuit. And Peter Oppegard has a million-dollar wardrobe. On the international circuit, Katerina Witt is definitely one of the best dressed. When she's on tour, she buys everything in America. She always looks great.

Another guy with a crush on Katarina Witt?

Actually, I think we kind of have a thing for each other; you know, we have a mutual crush on each other.

Are certain kinds of skaters better dressed than others?

Right. What it boils down to is that figure skating is a judged sport, while speed skating is not. Speed skaters can look however they want because they have a finish line. Figure skaters, on the other hand, are dealt with as people who are judged. If a judge doesn't like your hair, he'll come up and say, "It's too long in the back, get it cut. " I hate to say it, but if you're attractive it helps, it really helps you.

Does that bother you?

Yeah, a little bit, a little bit. But I understand it, because if the judges believe in you as a whole package, then they'll believe in you more on the ice. So when judges see you off the ice, you still want to look good, especially when you're young. It's a dilemma that most people don't have to worry about. But I've lived with it all my life. You spend half your day worrying that your hair's too long, too short, that you need to lose weight, so that when you get into those little spandex pants, you look your part. If you look at figure skaters as a whole, you probably think, Oh, my God, they're attractive, they've got good bodies, they know how to dress. But we're probably the least confident, of anyone. We're always being watched. So we worry about things like, Oh, God, I hope I don't drop anything on my white shirt because I'll look like a slob and the judge will give me a 3.9.

Does that affect your style off the ice?

Yeah. I've always envied people who can get away with wearing ripped jeans, sunglasses, having moused hair. Just a thrown-together look. I've never been able to do that, because I have to be so manicured. I would love one day just to throw on whatever, mess up my hair, wear the glasses, not shave for days and go out in public. And just not worry about what other people think when they see me on the street. But I would never do that. I would never be able to do that.