When I was coming up in the ‘90s, a pretty big shift in skydiving “fashion” was beginning to take place. Almost gone were the days when every skydiver had a skin-tight RW suit hanging in their locker, oversized fat grippers with colors to match their rig AND their ProTec helmet (mine had Wile E. Coyote ears sticking out the holes on top), ready to hop on that makeshift 4- or 8-way at a moment’s notice. Long gone were the days when every jumper had said suit on from the time they arrived at the DZ until the beer light came on.
In a relatively (pun intended) short period of time, things started to get a whole lot more … Baggy. At first, although the suit itself had changed, the “fashion” part of it hadn’t. You could still tell whose rig was on the packing mat by spotting the jumpsuit that would go best with the color scheme, but the style of the suit was dramatically different. At first you’d spot the sit-fly jackets …
Now, for those of you in the sport who don’t remember a time before sit flying, you’ve probably never seen one of these, but they were great! For those who had a hard time figuring out how to fly ass first, the suit designers of the day (I believe Tony Suits had the first) came up with an ingenious inflatable wing that would only pop open when you had your arms out in the sit position, hence giving you a shitload of drag on your arms, and “POOF,” you’re sit flying.
At the time, freeflying was still in its beginning stages, and it was much easier to manage the style of the day (pizza delivery boy or girl) with a big-ass baggy suit on, than it was in just about anything else. The extra drag on the arms and legs gave you a much larger range of control than you could manage without, which meant that everyone ended up looking a touch like a circus clown without the makeup.
Now, some chose to go a slightly more casual route and began wearing baggy freeefly pants, with a baggy sweatshirt or something similar. Once again, Tony stepped in, along with Da Kine Rags and started making what, at the time, were the coolest ones on the market. If you didn’t have a pair of Tony Patch Pants, you sure as hell wanted one (at least for a few years anyway). But still, everyone had the well-designed jumpsuit, matching rig (if you could afford such an extravagance), gloves, helmet, etc. But then, another change.
As freeflying grew, so did the art of the swoop, and those who sought to do nothing other than rage on their high-performance Stilettos, Batwings and the like, and eventually canopies like the V-Lo and even more “swoopable” nylon. Either because, or simply a byproduct of swooping, fashion changed yet again. Now, if you were one of the cool kids, one of the badass Mo Fos who was the envy of the entire DZ, you pretty much always looked like shit.
Spend enough time in the pond, and that beautiful rig that you used to brush down every time it got dusty now looked like a worn-out, overused sock. It, and the nasty shoes and shorts and T-shirt combo you wore was a badge of honor, telling anyone who looked your way that you were a force to be reckoned with. As with most things, it ended up seeping into most corners of the sport, and skydiving officially came into its own little grunge phase.
This phase kept up for quite some time really, right up until swooping and freeflying really came into their own. In my opinion, it was the PD Factory team of swoopers that changed that particular game. They went from the ragged, homeless derelict look, to a high-end, corporate group of badasses, all in matching blue, black and white outfits with smooth designs and an eye for looking slick. In no time, swoop shorts started matching rigs again; jerseys and helmets had a similar flair, and even though they were still getting wet, jumpers were at least trying to keep their clothing clean and not in tatters.
As canopy performance became more and more pronounced, the shorts and jerseys got tighter and tighter, mainly to help reduce the parasitic drag which would inevitably slow them down and shorten their runs. Tighter clothing, faster swoop, longer distance, less time drying out!
The freefall suits really didn’t follow the snug trend until tunnels took over the world. Quickly gone were the days of the “pizza guy” style of flying, and speed in freeflying was what you wanted. Speed equaled control in much more natural body positions, which meant that the baggy suits of not all that long ago were starting to fade. I can vividly remember the first time I saw a jumpsuit that made a skydiver look more like a Formula One driver than a jumper and I, like most people, thought it looked cool as fucking hell! They were cuffed at the ankle, looking like straight pants at the end, instead of gathered up with stretchy material, they had graphic designs, they were much more formfitting, and they just looked great!
Here’s the thing though … I’m about 193 pounds and I’m just barely shy of 5’10”. Snug suits for me mean that in a sit, stand or on my head, I fall like a brick duct-taped to another brick. Some of that is just the way I’m built and some is the fact that I’ll more than likely never be a world-class freeflyer, but regardless of why, it means my suits just never look as fucking cool as a lot of the others.
I do have to give a bit of an opinion at this point though … The ladies wearing their skintight white suits with the cool designs simply look amazing. I don’t think a single person would disagree, but you fellas? Really, I don’t need to see you in a suit so fucking tight I can tell what religion you are. OR, if you really need a suit that tight, at least have your balls wrapped up in a color that doesn’t make it possible for me to tell if you shave your junk or not.
It’s been cool sitting back and watching the evolution not only of the flying in our sport, but the gear and the fashion of it as well. Truth be told, I think today’s skydivers look like they very much fit into the reputation deserved of an incredible sport filled with true professionals, and at least a few times every day at the drop zone I see someone and think, “Fuck, that is one cool mothafucka …”