Sabrina Kyle is an indie wrestler. This means she catapults off turnbuckles, high kicks people in the face, and performs flips and other gymnastic manoeuvres, all the while trying not to rip a carefully thought-out costume so that she can do it all over again. Kyle has found her calling in a sport that too often uses costume to trivialize its most talented female athletes. By sticking them in impractical (but sexy) outfits or with silly gimmicks, it can be nearly impossible for anyone but the smartest of marks to take them seriously.
Kyle started training six days a week when she was 15. She was the only girl at the time at the Living Legends Wrestling Academy, which was unfortunately common. The professional wrestling scene treats female wrestlers as a special attraction, most shows often featuring only one women’s match a night. Kyle is all too familiar with this reality, as she has had to constantly compete for attention among the ever-growing number of female wrestlers in North America, all of whom are trying to be noticed in a sea of blonde hair, pink bras, and glitter.
But after eight years in the game, Kyle has started to come into her own. She knows what makes her different and persistently changes her style to stay above the fray. Now she’s a fashion leader on the indie circuit as well as a household name in Southwestern Ontario and the Northern Midwestern US. Her gear is a significant part of her identity as a wrestler, along with her gritty personality and top-notch ability. WORN caught up with Kyle to ask her about her personal style and how she stays true to herself.
How would you describe your personal style?
Comfortable. I just wear whatever, I really do.
And how would you describe Sabrina Kyle’s style?
I would say retro, ’50s, zombie, horror. For a while I was doing the superhero thing, so everything was Harley Quinn or Batman-oriented. I used to wear these huge bell-bottoms. Now I’m doing more of a rockabilly thing, and my gimmick right now is like a little sailor outfit, and then I wear Frankenstein socks. I just try to bring a little bit of horror into it. I try to be unique—not like every other female wrestler out there.
Would you say your personal style affects Sabrina’s at all?
[Shakes her head and laughs.] Night and day.
Where does your gear come from?
I design my outfits. I’ll either be watching a TV show or reading a comic book, I’ll see an outfit and I’ll think, “Oh, I can turn that into wrestling gear!” So I will show my mom pictures of what I want. My mom’s a seamstress and she does all the sewing. She makes my pad covers, everything.
Does Mom have much input?
My mom’s very supportive of whatever I want to wear. Sometimes she will think that something will look better another way, and she’ll just go ahead and make the change. I’ll get my finished product and notice, “Okay there wasn’t supposed to be black there,” but it usually looks better.
Do you generally seek out fabrics or patterns you like, or does your mom take care of that?
My mom and I, we always go to Anne’s Fabric Store in Hamilton. Their entire attic is all lycra and spandex. They know me; there’s actually me and a couple other wrestlers that get our material there, and they give us discounts because they know we’re wrestlers and we always put their name out there to other people. My mom usually goes with me and helps me pick it out. I usually know what I’m looking for when I go in, but sometimes I find some material that’s totally crazy.
Is everything you wear made from scratch?
Once or twice I’ve bought spandex pants from Zellers or whatever and had them cut off or redone, and then had stuff added to them. But usually my Mom has patterns, and she just makes it.
Has she ever made you other clothes, or just your wrestling stuff?
Oh yeah, she’s made me outfits. She made me a Batman dress out of a Batman sheet for my birthday last year.
When you’re not making your costumes, are there any particular stores you like?
Value Village, Winners, Hot Topic. I have one outfit: it’s black spandex with army print netting, and it has bell bottoms. But I got made fun of a lot, so I don’t wear it anymore. People would rib me backstage at shows all the time.
Does that bug you?
When it’s guys in the back, I would say no, since I’ve known them all since I was 15. But I do get upset when people post pictures online critiquing the way I look. People have called me the most ridiculous names—I weighed 220 pounds for a while, and trust me, people let me know that I weighed 220 pounds. I mean, it doesn’t feel really nice when it happens all the time. But with the guys, I don’t care about them. Most of them look like they’re wearing diapers anyway.
Are there any fabrics or styles you avoid?
Vinyl or pleather. A lot of guys wear pleather, and it looks backyard. I would never wear basketball shorts—I wrestled in the US one time, and the girl I was wrestling showed up wearing basketball shorts and a Jeff Hardy t-shirt. I would never wear running shoes. If I absolutely had to, I would wear kick pads over top of them to make them look more legitimate.
Would you ever wear heels in the ring?
I wouldn’t. I was managing the Amazing Darkstone for a while when I was hurt. The promoter wanted me to wear heels and dresses to every show—do you know how hard it is to walk around a wrestling ring in high heels? It’s padding, right. I couldn’t do anything. If I had to do a spot, I would take my heels off before I got in the ring and wear flats. If I couldn’t wear flats, I wouldn’t do the spot, ’cause I knew I could break my ankle. I have a hard enough time walking in heels as it is.
What’s your favourite wrestling outfit?
Probably my Harley Quinn outfit. There are a lot of girls doing the comic book thing now though, so I don’t wear it anymore. I wrestled one girl at a show, and then the next time I saw her she had almost identical gear as me. There’s only a couple of us in Ontario… but I didn’t say anything, I just changed what I was doing.
Does your wrestling gear make you more confident?
Yeah! I feel like a badass zombie killer. Laughs. It boosts my confidence. When I put my gear on and get in the ring, it’s business time.
Costume is important to a wrestler’s personality. How does it contribute to a gimmick?
It depends what you’re doing, and if you’re even doing a gimmick. Most girls don’t actually do gimmicks; they just wear what they want to wear. One girl I wrestled would always wear bathing suit bottoms and a bathing suit top—but she didn’t have a gimmick, and it didn’t matter ’cause everyone knew her name. But if you’re doing a vampire gimmick, then you’re not going to wear bathing suit bottoms and a bathing suit top—you’re going to make yourself look gothic. If I was trying to get over as a punk rocker, and I came out in a white bra and underwear… it makes no sense.
Male or female, who is your wrestling fashion influence?
Well, my favourite wrestler is Gangrel from the Brood, during the Attitude era—he did a vampire gimmick. And Trish Stratus. I think every girl says that, though—at least every girl from Toronto; she’s the most influential diva ever. But no one in wrestling now influences my style. I was really confused for a while about what I wanted to do—I did a showgirl gimmick, in which I wore sapphires and sparkles all the time, I did the superhero thing for a long time. I was just so confused, and I wasn’t getting noticed. If you want to be a female wrestler and you want to go somewhere, you need to have a gimmick, a look. You need people to say, “I remember that girl. That’s the girl who wore that.” Someone told me to just think of things I like and incorporate them into my gimmick and style in the ring. I really like B-rate horror movies and rockabilly music, and as far as fashion, I love Bettie Page—I wish I could dress like her every day. So I incorporated all that, and that’s how I got where I am now.
What’s your dream costume?
That’s a hard one, because my mom already makes what I want her to make. For my next set of gear, I want to get a two-piece made. I’ve never worn a two-piece the entire time I’ve been wrestling. But I’d like a two-piece made with Gir from Invader Zim—like a zombie Gir, with a brain cup on the side.
Do you think going pro wrestling (WWE) changes the way girls dress in the ring?
Well, I don’t actually watch WWE that much anymore. But Natalya, she wears Hart Foundation gear. Ever since day one in the WWE, she’s worn gear. And Awesome Kong/Kharma, the gear that she wore in WWE, she’s always worn that—but they made her wear makeup. When she was working indies, she wouldn’t wear any—she was supposed to be mean, that was the gimmick. When they brought her into the WWE, that’s the gimmick they wanted her to do, but they made her over, made her look like a giant Barbie doll. Same with Beth Phoenix; she was supposed to be this powerhouse, but they had to make her look feminine. I like her gear, I liked her one-piece… but before she left, she was wearing a skirt. And they make women into jokes. Like they put Beth Phoenix with Santino for the longest time, and she wasn’t even doing anything. Don’t get me wrong, I like Santino, but why would you put your most dominant female with this person to make her look like a joke? And with Natalya, they did a gimmick with her where she was farting all the time. It was so stupid. And Mickie James, I really didn’t like that Laycool gimmick they were doing for a while, where they were calling her “Piggy James,” ’cause she was a little bit bigger. That was part of the reason I liked Mickie James, because she was thicker, but she looked good and she could wrestle. Yet they played off that, and made fun of her for it. No wonder she left.
Sometimes promoters or other wrestlers will influence the choreography of a match. Do they ever dictate what you need to wear?
Now, a lot of the girls around here work hard to make themselves legitimate. Before it was all bras and panties or a bikini match. That’s what it often comes down to: sex appeal. Actually, a promoter once tried to book me and Kaitlin Diemond in a lingerie match at an indie show. I emailed him back and told him I wasn’t going to show up if that’s what he wanted us to do. I would have shown up in Batman boxers and a t-shirt anyway. I had a gig in the States where they made me do a cowgirl gimmick for a while—my name was Scarlett Rose and I was a cowgirl. I wore jean shorts, tied my shirt up and wore a cowboy hat and everything. I did that for two or three shows. But when I had had enough, I told him I was leaving. I left for a year, and then I came back on my own terms. I said, “This is the gimmick I’m doing now, I’m not changing my name.” He still wanted me to wear these little tiny outfits, because he thought it would get better ratings. But I’m not going to wear a bra and panties for a show that airs at 2:00 a.m. on Sunday mornings. Not to mention, if I go out there and do that, I’m going to get heat from the other girls who are legitimate wrestlers that I look up to, like Portia Perez and Sara Del Rey. Their outfits allow fans to focus on their wrestling ability, and not their looks. And that’s what we should be focusing on. I’m not Kelly Kelly. I’m Sabrina Kyle, and I’m going to wrestle the way I want to wrestle, and I’m going to wear what I want to wear.
photography // Laura Tuttle
artwork // Averill Smith