What not to wear: The rules of fashion on the ice

Johnny Weir
Johnny Weir famously competed in a swan-inspired costume with a single red glove (aka the beak) that he named Camille.
Franck Fife | AFP | Getty Images

Figure skating has long been known for its bedazzled, over-the-top and sometimes crazy costumes: Johnny Weir famously competed in a swan-inspired costume with a single red glove (aka the beak) that he named Camille.

Russian ice dancers Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin fueled controversy with their stereotyped "aboriginal" costumes.

And Katarina Witt caused a stir with her 1988 feather-trimmed getup that was deemed too sexy for lacking a skirt.

At times, it has seemed like there are no rules when it comes to skating costumes — which will be on display this week at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in St. Paul. But, surprise! There are plenty.

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We got the lowdown on costume rules from Juliet Newcomer, director of technical services for U.S. Figure Skating.

What do the rules say?

In general, costumes must meet the following requirements:

"The clothing of the competitors must be modest, dignified and appropriate for athletic competition, not garish or theatrical in design. Clothing may, however, reflect the character of the music chosen."

Costumes must also avoid the appearance of excessive nudity.

Katarina Witt
This Katarina Witt getup inspired the so-called "Katarina Rule," which mandated skirts for female skaters.
Massimo Sambucetti | AP 1988

Across all disciplines, men must wear trousers; no tights for men are permitted.

In singles and pairs skating, women may wear skirts, trousers and tights, including unitards.

That last part wasn't always the case. Witt's 1988 ensemble led to the so-called "Katarina Rule," which said "a skirt covering hips and posterior was required for ladies' competition (the skirt part of the rule was dropped in 2003)," The Boston Globe reported in 2014.

Rules are stricter in ice dancing: A woman must wear a skirt that goes around her entire waist (though there may be slits in the skirt). The majority of the upper body must be covered, and costumes must not hide the body line of the skaters.

Why are rules more stringent in ice dancing?

Elena Grushina and Ruslan Goncharov
Costume rules are more strict in ice dancing, perhaps because couples in that discipline have pushed the envelope more frequently. Elena Grushina and Ruslan Goncharov of Ukraine are seen here practicing at the 2006 European Figure Skating Championships in France.
Francois Mori | AP 2006

"I think maybe the envelope has been pushed further in ice dance in terms of costumes that weren't appropriate back in the '90s and early 2000s, and so that caused a reaction where in singles and pairs everyone is pretty well covered," Newcomer said.

"There haven't been any examples of costumes you look at and think, 'Whoa, I don't know if we want that. This is a family show.' "

If costumes do cross the line or otherwise break the rules, are there penalties?

Costume deductions are taken if a majority of the judging panel, including the referee, feels the outfit is garish. But it doesn't happen often.

"Usually, the skaters work really hard to make sure they're not going to get deductions," said Newcomer. "Usually by the time they get to a U.S. championship or a world championship, they've done enough competition and gotten enough feedback that they're probably not taking any risks in that regard."

Gracie Gold
Many figure skating costumes these days take their cues from the fashion runways. But all that glitz and glamour doesn't come cheap. Olympic costumes can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 per outfit. Here, Gracie Gold competes in the ladies short program at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Matthew Stockman | Getty Images 2014

Don't skaters get cold in those outfits?

It depends. Newcomer said some skaters tend to be on the warm side because their bodies adjust to being in rinks constantly. And at the national or world stage, the lights of the arenas also tend to warm up skaters so that by the time they're done with their programs, they're quite warm.

Why do skaters wear tights?

Tights aren't required, but many skaters wear them to help keep warm and also to protect from the ice during falls. Because the ice is pretty scratched up, skaters can get plenty of scrapes if they fall.

Most skaters try to match the color of tights to their skin tone. Some wear a style that goes over the boot. This is usually done to lengthen the leg line.

Yuna Kim
Some skaters, like 2010 Olympic champion Yuna Kim, wear over-the-boot tights. It can help lengthen a skater's lines and protect from falls on the ice.
Chung Sung-Jun | Getty Images 2010

It can also hide scuffed up boots — seriously. "We're also supposed to polish our boots when we compete so if you have them covered, maybe it saves the skaters one step in having to worry about that," Newcomer said.

How have costumes evolved?

Costumes were decidedly simple in the Dick Button and Peggy Fleming days, and sometimes made by mom. The 1970s and '80s ushered in the era of sequins, puffy sleeves and oodles of rhinestones.

Peggy Fleming
Figure skating costumes used to be much simpler. Here, Peggy Fleming practices in her costume on an outside rink in Grenoble, France, during the 1968 Winter Olympics.
Staff | AFP | Getty Images 1968

Nowadays, many outfits could pass for red-carpet couture. Some big-name designers have even created costumes for elite skaters — Vera Wang has dressed Michelle Kwan, Nancy Kerrigan and 2010 Olympic men's champion Evan Lysacek. Christian Lacroix designed an outfit for France's Surya Bonaly at the 1992 Olympics.

But it's not cheap to be an ice queen (or king). Olympic skating outfits can cost anywhere from $1,500 to about $5,000 each, Marketplace reported.