What Is The Suit Wrestlers Wear Called?

December 19, 2019


As a substitute teacher, I have dozens of students ask me about wrestling when they see my shirts. Many of the questions are centered around the wrestler’s “stretchy suit.” 

What is the suit wrestlers wear called? The suit wrestlers wear is called a singlet. The singlet is a one-piece uniform that fits tight around the thighs, covering all of the buttocks, midsection, and torso, strapping over the shoulders like a tight-fitting tank top.

“Singlet” is an unfamiliar term to many. Most students will guess “unitard,” “onesie,” or even “doublet.” However, these words sound awkward to wrestlers, and the accepted term within the sport is “singlet.”

The History of Wrestlers Wearing Singlets

With the popularization of MMA, a combat sport sharing many similarities to wrestling, people may wonder why mixed martial artists and wrestlers don’t wear the same uniforms. There are several reasons why the singlet is used for wrestling competition:

  • To impede grabbing and pulling techniques
  • To help prevent injuries
  • To maintain a tradition of hand-to-hand combat

Wrestlers Wear Singlets To Impede Grabbing And Pulling Techniques

Wearing a uniform that fits tight to the body makes it difficult for opponents to grab the uniform. In a sport of close physical combat, there can be numerous advantages to grabbing and pulling the opponent’s uniform, similar to holding in football. These advantages include:

  • Leveraging the grabbed uniform to finish a scoring attack
  • Slowing an opponent’s momentum on an attack of his or her own
  • Stalling (avoiding wrestling action) by holding onto the uniform

Therefore, in order to best ensure a fair contest, the singlet is worn by wrestlers to impede grabbing and pulling techniques.

Wrestlers Wear Singlets To Help Prevent Injuries

Injuries are common in wrestling. Everything from jammed digits to torn ligaments, tendons, and muscles prevail in the sport. 

Loose-fitting gear with significant space for entry would open the door for more such injuries to occur. Given the many sudden and explosive movements in the sport, a hand or finger that is tangled in a uniform would be subject to great risk. 

Moreover, as traditional workout gear, such as t-shirts and shorts, gets drenched in sweat, it tends to become saggy and untucked. This further exacerbates a problem that singlets largely prevent. 

Wrestlers wear singlets to help minimize the injury risk presented by more loose-fitting gear.

Wrestlers Wear Singlets To Maintain A Tradition 

The use of the singlet has some historical roots. As one of the oldest sports known to humanity, the earliest wrestling matches were contested in no uniform at all, a pure test of hand-to-hand strength, skill, and toughness.

While the practice of wrestling nude became distasteful through the generations, the idea of having a hand-to-hand contest, uninhibited and unaided by uniform, was still of great interest to sportsmen.

The singlet was a logical solution. The singlet provided additional modesty while allowing the sport to maintain the ethics of true hand-to-hand struggle.

Do Wrestlers Practice In Singlets?

While some wrestlers do prefer to practice in a singlet, it is not required that a singlet be worn during practice sessions. In fact, the majority of wrestlers practice in a t-shirt and shorts

Wrestling is unique in that it is one of the few sports where the practice attire and competition uniform aren’t ostensibly the same. As competition is generally the only time the public sees an athlete, the uniform becomes indelibly branded in the spectator’s mind. Therefore, many spectators view wrestling as dependent on the singlet, which is fallacious.

Opposition To Wrestlers Wearing Singlets

While the singlet has a long history in wrestling, in recent years, there have been many arguments made against using the singlet as the competition uniform for the sport. Some of the more common arguments include:

  • The singlet is too revealing
  • The problems the singlet supposedly solves are overstated
  • The MMA effect

The Singlet Is Viewed As Too Revealing

Some prospective wrestlers and parents of prospective wrestlers have expressed concern that the singlet, due to its tight-fitting nature, is too revealing. Some of the issues that a revealing uniform might create include:

  • Self-consciousness from athletes who are uncomfortable with their bodies
  • Bullying from peers who aren’t inclined to wear singlets
  • Dissociation from wearing something overtly different from street wear

Despite strong interest in the sport, many prospective wrestlers would prefer competing in a more casual uniform. 

The Problems The Singlet Supposedly Solves Are Overstated

The singlet has been purported to decrease competitive advantage by reducing the amount that opponents can grab and pull on the uniform. Critics argue that this advantage is negligible. The headgear is a required piece of equipment that has had grabbing and pulling infractions largely officiated out of relevance.

Some also question the increased injury risk of competing in baggier gear. If loose-fitting gear puts wrestlers at greater risk of injury, why do the majority of wrestlers practice in gear other than a singlet?

Critics also argue that while it is less likely that an appendage get stuck in a singlet, the results will be more deleterious if, in fact, it does.

The MMA Effect

Mixed martial arts is a popular combat sport that is closely related to wrestling. Singlets should, in theory, help mixed martial artists in the same way they help wrestlers.

There are no mixed martial artists who compete in singlets. 

It is argued that wrestling would see increased popularity if participants competed in uniforms that mirrored those of mixed martial artists.

Will Wrestlers Wear Singlets In The Future?

The singlet has evolved as technology has improved. While the concept of fashioning a tight-fitting uniform has remained consistent through the years, modern-day singlets are significantly different from older designs in the following ways:

  • Lighter
  • Greater elasticity
  • Improved sweat-wicking capabilities

Technology has also allowed for flashier graphics to be printed on and sublimated into the fabric, making the singlet a more dynamic-looking outfit to don.

While improvements to the singlet have been vast, the same can be said for other forms of workout gear. Tight-fitting shorts and compression shirts have become much more comfortable, functional, and fashionable for athletes. This type of workout gear has become increasingly popular at wrestling practices.

A two-piece uniform of compression shirt and shorts has also been approved as an alternative for competition. While the singlet still constitutes the overwhelming majority of competition uniforms, this updated look has gained some traction by avoiding the issues that singlets were originally designed to correct. 

Can I Wrestle And Not Wear A Singlet?

As singlets are generally only worn during competitions, all athletes interested in wrestling are encouraged to participate, regardless of how they feel about singlets. Wrestling is great for self-defense and an overall outstanding sport for physical fitness, and, as mentioned above, all practice sessions can be conducted in alternative gear.

In most novice-level tournaments, uniform standards are not strictly enforced. If they are, athletes can be encouraged to try the alternative two-piece uniform. While the athlete wearing the two-piece uniform is surely not going to be in the majority as of today, it will likely gain adopters as views on the singlet continue to evolve.

What If I Prefer Wearing A Singlet?

There is nothing wrong with wearing a singlet. Countless wrestlers have worn a singlet proudly and effectively for many years. If the singlet is a wrestler’s preferred uniform, then he or she has every right to continue utilizing it. 

However, it should be noted that as society’s views change and technology continues to improve athletic gear, additional uniforms, such as the approved alternative two-piece model, are likely to be seen with increased frequency, potentially causing a downswing in usage of the singlets worn by wrestlers.

Tucker Lane is a former wrestler and wrestling coach. He is the author of Love in the Time of Likes, a novel about a high school wrestling coach who explores the world of online dating. He also co-hosts the Four-Point Nearfall podcast, available on all major listening apps, which discusses action in the Big XII Conference.


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