Q: During the recent season-ending game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins, I caught a glimpse of a few of the Cowboys cheerleaders on the sideline and found myself a little surprised by the skimpiness of their outfits. I’ve been following the Cowboys for about four decades and have been aware of the cheerleaders for just as long, so I don’t know why I would be all that surprised, but I was. Am I crazy or are those uniforms getting smaller?

Name Withheld, San Antonio

A: The Texanist watched that game, too. He also kept an eye on the game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants, who kicked off at the same time that afternoon. As you no doubt recall, the Cowboys (7-8) were facing a do-or-die situation: not only did they need to prevail against the hated Redskins (3-13), they also needed the equally hated Giants (4-11) to defeat the similarly hated Eagles (8-7) in order for Dallas to advance to the playoffs. While the Cowboys fulfilled their end of the bargain, winning handily 47-16, the Giants did not and the Eagles went to the playoffs instead. Season over. Again!

With all of the drama unfolding on the various gridirons that afternoon, the Texanist admits to having not paid much attention to the cheerleaders. He did, though, keep an eye out for the hangdog facial expressions of head coach Jason Garrett, who was, as you know, finally let go after too many seasons on the hotseat. At least he went out with a win, albeit not a Super Bowl win, something he was never able to achieve in his ten years with the team.

But while it may seem that the Dallas Cowboys’ inability to win even a divisional playoff game has a long history, it’s not nearly as long as the history of the skimpiness of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders’ uniforms. The Cowboys’ bad fortunes go back only 25 years, to 1995, when they won their last Super Bowl. Those iconic Cowboys Cheerleaders’ outfits date all the way back to 1972, when the squad, as we know it today, came into being.

When the team itself was founded in 1960, president and general manager Tex Schramm, who understood football’s potential for spectacle as well as anybody, wanted a special breed of cheerleaders. The cheering duties in those early days were handled by the CowBelles and Beaux, a small coed squad of traditional cheerleaders made up of local high schoolers. On November 5, 1967, though, during a home game—then held at the Cotton Bowl—against the Atlanta Falcons, the notorious Dallas adult entertainer Bubbles Cash turned heads when she made a spectacle of herself by sauntering down a stadium aisle while scantily clad and carrying a pair of cotton candies. Schramm, history tells us, took note of the ruckus.

Fast forward a few years, to that 1972 debut of the revamped cheer team at the Cowboys’ new Texas Stadium home. Schramm and Dee Brock, whom Schramm had charged with the care and upkeep of the cheerleaders, were looking for a flashier uniform for the girls—the squad was no longer coed—and sought out Paula Van Wagoner, a young fashion designer who was working at the Lester Melnick women’s store in Dallas. Van Wagoner offered up sketches of two outfits. One was made up of a fringe skirt, a Western-ish-style cropped blouse, and boots. The other, a much skimpier affair, is the one that Schramm enthusiastically green-lighted, and it’s basically the same uniform worn by the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders this near-half-century later. Today, the blue cropped blouse, white fringed and bespangled vest, star-studded belt, hip-hugging short-shorts, and white boots have become so iconic that an example of the uniform resides in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Without the eye-catching outfit, who knows what would have become of America’s Sweethearts, as the cheerleaders are known? Would comely Gwenda Swearengin have captured America’s attention when, shimmying and shaking her pom-poms, she offered a smile and a wink for the television camera during Super Bowl X, in 1976? In the 2018 documentary film Daughters of the Sexual Revolution: The Untold Story of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, the Texanist’s old friend and former colleague Joe Nick Patoski, author of The Dallas Cowboys: The Outrageous History of the Biggest, Loudest, Most Hated, Best Loved Football Team in America, identified Swearengin’s eight seconds in the spotlight as “the wink that launched the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.” Without that uniform, would the Cowboys cheerleaders have gone on to be the subject of a sultry 1977 poster so famous that it outsold—at least for a while—Farrah Fawcett’s famous 1976 red-swimsuit poster, which reigns as the best-selling poster of all time? Would they have made appearances on both NBC’s Rock-n-Roll Sports Classic and ABC’s The Osmond Brothers Special in 1977 as well? And what about ABC’s one-hour special, The 36 Most Beautiful Girls in Texas, which aired prior to 1978’s season-opening edition of Monday Night Football, and the 1978 Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, the ABC made-for-television movie that starred Bert Convy, Jane Seymour, Major League Baseball’s Bucky Dent, and the cheerleaders themselves? And the famous 1978 porno movie, Debbie Does Dallas, which, because of an alleged trademark violation involving the uniform, spurred Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, Inc. v. Pussycat Cinema, Ltd.? And the Love Boat guest appearance in 1979? And what about the October 2005 cover of Texas Monthly? And all of the USO appearances and other goodwill ambassadoring? And the long-running CMT reality show Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team? And the countless op-eds and broadsides from various well-meaning feminists and prudes calling for the group’s dismantling?

The Texaninst can answer few of these questions with real certainty, but if he was a betting man, which he is, he’d go all in on the wager that without those eye-catching uniforms, virtually none of the above would have been possible.

What the Texanist can, after a great deal of study, say for sure, is that while today’s Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders uniform is essentially the same as the original uniform, it is not exactly the same. Minor tweaks have been made here and there. For example, the white boots, formerly a taller go-go style, are now a shorter cowboy-style, made by Lucchese since 2011. And recently the boots’ steel shank was removed, making them more pliable and dance-friendly. The blue crop top, with long puffy sleeves, was once made of a more shimmery material. Today, it has a flatter finish and is made entirely of poly microfiber. And the lapels are of a slightly simpler cut, no longer notched as they once were. In the early nineties, the hot pants were temporarily swapped out for a high-rise short with a deep v-cut front. Sparkling crystals were added to the three stars on each side of the vest and, later, more crystals were added to the area where the fringe dangles. And the belt was enhanced by way of a showier buckle shaped by Dallas sculptor Brad Oldham, brother of fashion designer Todd Oldham.

But are the uniforms skimpier now than they have been in the past? Well, maybe a smidge. They’ve always been custom fitted to the individual physique of each cheerleader, so no two are exactly alike. But at the end of the day, considering the skimpiness of the already skimpy original uniform, it is the Texanist’s professional determination that any further skimpiness would be a virtual impossibility. Plus, any attempt at making an actual determination with regards to this matter would be a hair-splitting exercise in futility that could, perhaps, get the Texanist in some trouble with HR.

Thus, it is also the Texanist’s professional opinion that you may well be a little crazy. Which is to say, a typical Cowboys fan.

Thanks for the letter.

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated to correct the spelling of a name. It’s Gwenda Swearengin, not Swearingen.