Professional wrestling gear—the uniform that pro wrestlers wear while doing battle—is often more than just fabric, frills, and function. The gear that wrestlers wear often references the performer’s history, character traits, and story. Take Scott Hall and Kevin Nash. The essence of their New World Order look and mannerisms was heavily influenced by the ’90s West Coast rap scene; they wrestled almost exclusively in black gear with red accents (with Hall going so far as to have a dripping blood design on his trunks, vest, and pads). Steve Austin, the no-nonsense harbinger of the Attitude Era, would find his greatest successes in plain black trunks and boots, spitting in the face of the highlighted and intricate patterns that adorned the two most significant rivals of his ascension, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. But when you try to tell the story of an act like WWE Hall of Famer Lita, you’re talking about something more personal, something that existed before the trip to that night’s show. Back then, Amy Dumas had six pairs of pants to her name, and all six were being rotated as her explosive persona’s ring attire during appearances at Raw, SmackDown, and that week’s house shows. Lita’s wrestling gear tells a story about how rewarding it is to be true to yourself, and in Lita’s case, how far it could extend an already fantastic career.
Lita is one of the busiest ambassadors under the WWE umbrella. She’s a now-former WWE Women’s Tag Team champion (alongside Becky Lynch). She just filmed the new season of WWE’s Most Wanted Treasures, where her team scours the earth in search of the coolest wrestling accessories of yesteryear. She spends time at the WWE Performance Center while regularly appearing on Raw. Lita, recent six-woman tag team partner (and fellow WWE Hall of Famer) Trish Stratus, and Edge are the only three participants from WrestleMania 17 who still physically compete in WWE. When Lita tries to put that longevity into perspective, she almost immediately jumps to what she’s seen, not what she’s done.
“It’s pretty surreal,” Lita explains. Because of what she’s accomplished, she says that this run feels more “like bonus time, right?” Her WrestleMania 39 competition was Damage CTRL, composed of multi-time women’s champion Bayley, the graceful and precise Iyo Sky (who Lita says has the best moonsault in the game right now), and former Captain of Team Kick Dakota Kai. In February, Lita and Lynch defeated the team of Sky and Kai, winning the Women’s Tag Team title, which didn’t exist during Lita’s initial run. “I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a little nerves, and I hope I could keep up with these women. But to get in there and do it and then, even more exciting, to wake up and be like, ‘OK … nothing’s broken. [I won’t] end up in the emergency room now. I can actually enjoy it and let it soak in.’ But it was really incredible.”
Lita is far removed from the early-2000s WWE house show circuit, performing for 10,000 to 12,000 fans every day or two. Lita reflects on soaking in the scale of an event like WrestleMania 39—events she helped popularize with fellow timeless contemporary Stratus—at SoFi Stadium. “Trish and I are walking into the stadium for the first time and we have our phones, just video, and we’re like, ‘This is crazy,’” she says, remembering how massive the empty arena—and the massive stage—was during their WrestleMania 39 practice runs. “I have a video where I went to record my entrance,” Lita continues, “and I promptly forgot [I was recording] as I started entering because I just got so excited, and the video was just like, you know, all over the place. It’s basically in my pocket because it’s … yeah, you can’t not, I’m sorry. Everyone that looks like they’re playing it cool out there, they’re freaking out.”
For the match, Lita broke out gear similar to what she wore through the Attitude Era: large, flared black pants with a checkered trim, a black mesh top with an orange mesh shirt layered on top, and, to finish the look, checkered black-and-white high-top Vans. While most acts were in some form of trunks or full-length spandex, Lita embraced the baggy punk look. Similar to the Rock’s elbow pad removal before hitting the most electrifying move in sports entertainment, Lita and her Team Xtreme stablemate Jeff Hardy would sometimes remove one of their top layers before hitting their top-rope finishers, the moonsault and Swanton Bomb, respectively. In 2023, Lita is part of a new trio, with fellow legends turned Most Wanted Treasures artifact finders Booker T and Mick Foley, and her former devil-may-care practice of tossing away clothing to signify a big moment now runs afoul of her new team’s main objective. “A lot of shirts,” she hypothesizes when asked about how many tops she sacrificed for that exclamation point on her acrobatic finisher. “You know what [I would] do during the day before my match hour? Figure out a way to cut up my shirt a little bit different and, you know, trial-and-error and salvage something out of it. And then I might tie it on to me just for the match, and then I would just cut it off and it probably ended up on the locker room floor that night. It gave me perspective on wishing I had had the foresight to realize how important these pieces were and held on to them better.”
So now, the opportunity to revisit specific gear, whole outfits, props? It’s a great fit for the Most Wanted Treasures hosts. There’s Booker T, world champion in both WCW and WWE, a true historian of the business. We’ve seen Booker go from flamed kufis to functional camouflage to robes, scepters, and crowns. His unique perspective comes from being someone who learned the trade in the late ’80s/early ’90s and still continues to train talent to this day, bringing true enthusiasm to his revisiting of WWE’s top moments and the visuals that made them special. Mick Foley, noted author and unsung hero of WWE’s rise during the Attitude Era, is getting to revisit some of his most brutal matches and iconic opponents, beginning with Steve Austin in the Most Wanted Treasures season premiere. Mick’s “many faces” have ranged from snakeskin boots and tie-dyed tops to a sock that would wish you a nice day before kissing you goodnight. “This show has been so fun to do,” Lita says. “While it’s been fun to play in the ring, I’m not looking to be on the road full time.” Lita is embracing this role, which allows her to “be directly involved in the industry that I love.” She says it’s a practice “of preserving history,” perhaps making up for all of those shirts she discarded 20-plus years ago.
While Lita rounds out the trio as a pioneer in women’s wrestling, she was also young enough to have witnessed the biggest moments in pro wrestling history, understanding the importance of each wrestler’s gear while watching WWE as a fan. Her most noted contemporaries are acts that came into the WWE spotlight at about the same time: Matt and Jeff Hardy and their adversaries, Edge and Christian, as well as the Dudley Boyz. With the exception of D-Von Dudley, all the others are still active competitors, with Edge also competing at WrestleMania 39. And while their longevity is incredible, it’s another act—the one that got Lita interested in the first place and inspired her to move to Mexico to learn the sport—that shows her appreciation for her career, and why iconic gear holds such a firm place in her heart: Rey Mysterio. “He’s in one of the hottest story lines the WWE has seen and just killing in the ring every night,” Lita explains.
Sometimes it’s tough not to diminish the power of your own influence when so much of who you are has been determined by those who influenced you. Lita and Mysterio share a pattern, aesthetically: While there have been tweaks visually and stylistically, they’ve both mainly stuck to a very successful script. Rey’s mask (featuring dual falcon heads, which he inherited from his uncle, split down the middle by a cross that he designed) has been a constant for almost 30 years, and comes with matching tights emblazoned with similar imagery. While Mysterio isn’t 1997 Halloween Havoc–era Phantom Rey, he’s still quick and explosive, and continues to capture the audience’s imagination whenever he’s in the ring. Lita’s Hot Topic half-pipe style pants have remained, and the rotation of her shirts (and her moonsault) helps the four-time WWE Women’s champion maintain the respect of a legend and the credibility of a contemporary act. It’s why Lita can be invited to a place like the Mysterio home and then be awestruck at the idea that she’s inside the Mysterio home. “I can’t believe this is my life right now,” Lita says, reflecting on one of her favorite moments of the upcoming season. “I am in Mysterio’s house. [Rey’s wife and Dominik’s mother] Angie is cooking us the most bomb-ass Mexican food that I have ever eaten. And we are digging through his mask collection. All of this gear. He’s walking down and I’m freaking out. I was like, ‘Oh yeah, this is against [ECW/WCW rival and fellow luchador] Psicosis.’ They’re walking down memory lane, but I’m that kid that was watching WCW.” The connection that Lita felt at that moment is “why we have this show.”
All the digging through trunks, visiting collectors, and even scouring her own closet in an attempt to contribute to WWE’s history has caused Lita to reflect, but, as she’s shown throughout her career, she’s not one to rest on the last big move. She’s both aware of her standing and knows that pro wrestling is meant to live on after her. “I love that, you know, when women were getting into wrestling [they] either had to be a super fan or have an ‘in’ somehow. It was just a little bit more carny.” Lita recognizes that, with things like WWE’s NIL program and the Performance Center, the game has changed. She takes pride in how she rose to the top of her era, becoming someone who played a part in “inspiring people that maybe didn’t see this as a career path before. And now here they are, just snatching titles.” Even when Lita talks about being complimented, she recognizes the importance of her influence. “My favorite [compliment], I think, is that I inspired them to be them, not the ones who say, ‘Oh, you inspired me, I wanted to be like you.’” Lita appreciates being the catalyst for today’s stars because of the passion she put into her career, and she doesn’t need an old T-shirt to remind her of that.
Cameron Hawkins writes about pro wrestling, Blade II, and obscure ’90s sitcoms for Pro Wrestling Torch, Pro Wrestling Illustrated, and FanSided DDT. You can follow him on Twitter at @CeeHawk.