Sportswear Through The Ages

Sportswear has evolved so much over time, from its humble beginnings as simple loose clothing worn when participating in sports only, it is now a much more sophisticated term with many facets.

Sports have existed for a very long time and many ancient civilisations each had their own types of sport but the idea of wearing particular clothing suited to that certain sport came more recently. The ancient Greeks performed sports in the nude and many other nations had a ceremonial dress made for sports but nothing existed like what's on offer today. Here is a brief timeline of the recent history of sportswear.

19th Century

In the 19th century, sportswear, described as activewear, was made specifically for sports and wasn't worn for leisure. Due to the increase in demand for sportswear for women, the British company Redfern & Sons founded by John Redfern became a popular manufacturer of women's sports clothes including tennis, yachting, archery, and horse riding gear. As the clothing designed by Redfern was very comfortable, people began to wear them for everyday use resulting in the concept of modern sportswear being born.

In 19th-century Britain before the rise of sportswear, people would remove their jackets and loosen their shirts to show that they were at leisure, however, this trend was not taken up in America and was banned during the Puritan period.

The 1920s

There were many changes in the design of sportswear during the 1920s due to an increase in people taking part in the sport for leisurely purposes.

The famous female tennis player Suzanne Lenglen began the trend of wearing a short skirt and headband while playing instead of the traditional dress and hat. Shorter skirts suddenly became fashionable to wear when not performing sports. The famous brand Chanel, founded by Coco Chanel, who was a Nazi spy, began to produce sports clothing for women in France, which gained international popularity from the American fashion magazine Harper's Bazaar.

Although wearing sportswear for fashion was popular in France, America was making much more affordable and mass-producible sportswear in contrast to the high-end sportswear that was being made in France. As a result of this, America became the world's biggest sportswear producer and still is today, America's Nike is in constant competition with its European rival Adidas.

The 1930-40s

Before the Second World War, the most famous sports fashion designer in America was Claire McCardell who designed a range of comfortable and practical using various materials that weren't normally used before like denim. McCardell is credited as being the greatest sportswear designer in America and the clothing she made relaxed the ordinary formal dress code in America. McCardell believed in affordable fashionwear for all and through her ethics and hard work became a very successful businesswoman.

World War Two was indeed very straining on America and Europe's economies and it was only after the war that sportswear design improved, being influenced by practical designs used by the military.

There was also a form of an early puffer jacket, a quilted version created by Eddie Bauer, but a later version filled with down was also created to be a warmer alternative. It is said that the inspiration for this came from the unfortunate incident when Bauer caught hypothermia and was determined to make a warmer jacket taking inspiration from military wear.

After The War To The 1960s

It was only natural that during World War Two, military equipment was constantly improving and this improvement was implemented in sportswear after the war. Nylon, which was originally used in military gear, started to be used in windsuits and running shorts making them more comfortable and stretchy.

The 1950s saw the use of new machine knitting techniques that weren't previously available and double knitting allowed knitted clothing like jackets and coats to be mass-produced. The standard t-shirt was also experimented with to make longer versions which are used in sports by some people even today.

The most notable change in sportswear during this period, however, was Rudolf Gernreich's outrageous swimsuit designs that went a step further than those designed by McCardell in an attempt to provide a more "free" choice for the independent woman.

The 1970s to 2000s

The 1970s leading up to the 2000s saw a huge change in sportswear fashion with notable designers like Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren establishing their names in the sports fashion industry.

The tracksuit became very popular in the mid-70s since it was worn by Bruce Lee, who was loved by almost everyone, and from that point on tracksuits became the new athletic look.

In 1971, Adidas manufactured the Stan Smith tennis shoes, originally called Robert Haillet but renamed after the top tennis player at the time, which gained huge popularity and is still worn by people today.

With more women taking part in yoga, the 1970s unitard stopped being worn and was replaced with yoga pants which were much more comfortable. This became the reason they became fashionable to wear on the street, as people didn't want to change back into their uncomfortable formal attire and were much happier in their stretchy, lightweight yoga pants.

21st Century

Ever since the 80s, tracksuits and other activewear items replaced the more formal everyday dress, and this line was blurred even further with the introduction of the athleisure trend. Sportswear and even gym wear are now the preferred fashionable option and jeans are slowly becoming less popular.

With careful study of how the human body works during sports, more practical items of sportswear are being produced to maximise the potential of the wearer. With gym wear that absorbs sweat to keep you dry, streamlined swimwear and ultra-lightweight running shoes, the 21st century arguably has the best sportswear the world has seen yet.

It is a very interesting thought to think of what the future might hold for sportswear, with new concepts and technologies being developed regularly.