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ESSAY Bloomers and Beyond North Carolina Women's Basketball Uniforms, 1901-1997 by Pamela Grundy Players should be dressedin clothing which is not onlyproper but attractive, and which will remain inplace during thegame. —Athletics for High School Girls, North Carolina Collegefor Women, November 192J1 t is the winter of 1 997, and Tiffany Cummings plies the South Robeson High School basketball court, watched by a reporter who has traveled from the state capital to the tiny town ofRowland just to see her play. Cummings is the Mustangs' star scorer, with a soft touch that mesmerized her coach the first time he saw her loft a shot in gym class, and launched him on a furious campaign to recruit her for the team. But the Raleigh News and Observerhas not sent its writer on a hundred-mile trip because ofCummings's hot three-point hand. Rather, it is for her dress. Instead of donning the blue and white shorts sported by her teammates , Cummings dribbles and shoots and drives to the basket wearing a skirt sewn by her mother, one which reaches modesdy below her knees. Her father, a Baptist with a strict view of the Bible, has no trouble with his daughter playing ball, even ifher energetic play does sometimes "knock people down." But he will not let her appear in clothing "which pertaineth unto a man."2 The unusual attire draws considerable attention, Cummings admits. But it has not hurt her game. "A lot of people thought it was ridiculous," she told die reporter . "But I think I've proved them wrong." In 1997 Tiffany Cummings's situation seemed unusual enough to warrant statewide notice, and she took die interest in stride, observing, "Nobody around here ever played basketball in a skirt before." But rather than representing the exception such words imply, her mid-calf, slighdy gathered skirts—a white one for home games, a blue one for away—in fact link her to a century ofNorth Carolina experience, in which several generations of the state's young women have contended with the implications of treading ground so often claimed by men. As with women venturing into business or politics, basketball players have found diemselves enmeshed in a shifting web of concerns about physical capabilities, biblical imperatives, social roles, and sexual display. And in keeping with the substantial social freight so often placed on women's physical appearance, such issues have regularly surfaced in players' uniforms. While photos of North Carolina men's teams show little outward change from decade to decade, those of women display dramatic transformations. And in those images, in outfits that range from billowing black wool to tight-fitting blue satin, lie clues to women's broader experiences, illuminating norms of female comportment, the points at which female athletes challenged such assumptions, and die ways that such rebellious implications could be cloaked in the reassuring sights of long skirts or bright red smiles. North Carolina women first took up basketball in the late 1 890s, when sports and exercise became part of the expanding curriculum offered by the state's new opposite: Katie I^e Griffith coached atAleckknburg County's Dixie High School in 1916. Note the bloomer-cladplayers in the background. Courtesy ofBetty BerryhillMcCaIl. North Carolina Women's Basketball Uniforms 5 3 women's colleges. Players reveled in the game, which allowed them a freedom of movement and emotional release rarely permitted by die decorous conventions that governed their daily lives. But their outfits showed meticulous adherence to existing standards of"proper" female dress. The 1901 squad from the North Carolina State Normal and Industrial School sat for their yearbook photo in heavy, dark skirts that reached to their shoetops, lengthy sleeves that stretched well beyond their wrists, and collars that pulled tight to their necks. Were it not for the elaborately constructed basket rising behind them and the leather ball that Mary Ward held to her side, it would be difficult to imagine them playing basketball at all. The women posed quiedy, demure, avoiding the camera's gaze as though it were invading the private sphere thatwas seen as women's place, and the wisps of hair escaping from beneath Daphne Carraway's...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 52-67
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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