Mar 102011

As I was getting dressed for practice the other day I was rifling through the bottomless basket where I hoard all my derby clothes and noticed I perpetually pass over my crazy rainbow-hued paisley tights for plain black ones and scour for my favorite black Under Armour shorts instead of choosing the lacey almost-underwear that’s right on top of the pile. It’s easier to skate in Under Armour – that’s not a plug, it’s just the truth. I’ve got loads of Hot Topic products, don’t get me wrong, but I’m finding myself going more often to Academy for practice wear.

So, why do we do this to ourselves? Why to we feel the need to dress in costume at bouts, painting our faces and donning insane colors?

Sure, this Lady Gaga – type getup was popular when derby had its renaissance in Texas the early 2000s. It was part of the counterculture rockabilly atmosphere. They also used a penalty wheel and had public spankings. That was fine to renew interest in a fledgling sport, but is that really what derby is all about now?

I know a lot of us out there thrive on the masquerade of derby, the alter-ego aspect of the superhero name and dynamic dress, but I know a lot of us out there don’t. It’s obvious who’s who out there on the track. I think I fall somewhere in the middle. I don’t bout without RSRD eyeblack on my face. I just dig it. I’ve given up the glitter eyeliner, though. I don’t like “sticky eye” when I’m trying to focus on jamming through a pack. I think I’m less into the costume of derby than I used to be. On game day I choose my socks according to fit and thickness instead of what’s printed on them (practice, however, is balls-out as far as sock hilarity goes). Still, I also don’t bout without my black shorty-shorts with the skeleton hands on the back.

Skeleton hands make for fast jamming

There’s nothing wrong with the garish charade of derby clothes, and I don’t think less of anyone who wants to wear electric leggings or whatever, but I just question what we’re actually putting out there when we wear them.

Every post I read online on derby forums eventually returns to reiterate the athleticism of derby, the mental anguish, determination, and (borderline cruel) time commitment. Are we ever going to be taken seriously as athletes if we compete in tutus? Even Dennis Rodman became more famous for his cross-dressing than his basketball prowess. I think that’s something to consider here.

On the flip side, would we lose our fan base? If I skated out at a bout wearing uniform shorts, black skates, plain helmet, and team jersey with my phlegmatic last name printed on the back, would the fans still cheer for me? What if we were all like that? Would anyone come watch? Does this boil down to economics? We need ticket sales to play, and with no ruffle panties and double-entendres, we might be back to bouting in the parking lot. Since we rarely draw blood and don’t pull hair, do we need the crazy get-ups to draw the crowds and make them forget they’re not watching naked girls jello-wrestling?

Question for the live derby readers: every time we pull on our hot pants, are we selling out?