Starting out as simple loose clothing worn when playing sports became today a 300 billion dollar international industry that is only expected to grow in the coming years. While sports have existed for a very long time, the idea of wearing particular clothing suited to that certain sport came more recently.
Sportswear has evolved drastically over time and is classified today into active and leisure wear. The more sports became popular among both genders, the more it influenced fashion and the norm of everyday clothing. Keep reading to find out how sportswear came to be what it is today.
From Activewear to Sportswear
In the 19th century, sportswear, previously known as activewear, was designed specifically for sports. The Parisian tennis players Jane Régny and Suzanne Lenglen, founders of the British company Redfern & Sons, were the first to produce women’s sports clothes that included tennis, yachting, archery, and horse riding gear. The clothing was very comfortable and people were interested in sports for leisurely purposes. They began to wear them casually during the day resulting in the concept of modern sportswear being born.
Consequently, its popularization increased the designs of sports clothes during the 1920s. The tennis players started experimenting with different dresses, skirts, and accessories such as headbands to wear during tennis matches. Shorter skirts became fashionable and people started wearing them for leisure activities. Having been very popular among country clubs and resorts, tennis wear also influenced the emergence of many brands such as Fred Perry. The luxury brand Chanel also started to produce sports clothing for women in France, which gained international popularity after being featured in the magazine Harper’s Bazaar.
Sportswear as Mass-Production
Wearing sportswear for fashion was first popularized in France and England, but America started making much more affordable clothing compared to the high-end sportswear of Europe and in mass-production, which resulted in America to become the world's biggest sportswear producer till this date. The American Nike brand became in competition with Europe's Adidas and the two brands are still rivals today. In America, the concept of 'Spectator Sportswear' was also born, and it became common for men and women to wear sports clothing when watching sports games.
Sportswear for women was also directly influenced by the women’s liberation movement. During that time, women became more active and participated in outdoor sports such as tennis, basketball, horseback riding, skating, boating, and bicycling. As a result, sportswear saw a major development and women finally could enjoy wearing pants or any other piece of comfortable clothing they desired.
One of the first garments considered as sportswear for women was Amelia Jenks Bloomer’s bloomer. This bloomer was originally designed to ride bicycles, and since America was already producing in mass production, bloomers were worn for other sporting activities such as gymnastics, basketball, swimming, and mountain climbing.
One women’s sports clothing in particular that gained huge popularity is yoga pants. These pants became extremely fashionable to wear daily. After experiencing all this comfortable clothing, people did want to go back to the formal attire that was custom before.
Sportswear in Italy
The Italian entrepreneur Maurizio Pouchain visited the United States and brought back with him to Italy the idea of sports clothes as fashion. During his trip, he became aware of the big influence of sports on fashion, where many people enjoyed representing and wearing a t-shirt or a hat of their favorite team.
Back in Italy, Pouchain decided to open a knitwear sportswear factory in Borgorose, in the Abruzzo region. His goal was to produce clothing for football and baseball. However, in order to be different and successful, he knew he needed to produce fashionable and attractive sports clothing. Therefore, he decided to merge with Pierro Gratton, a famous Italian designer. This is how sports fashion became revolutionary. Throughout the late 70s and early 80s, the new manufacturing company started expanding to produce for all kinds of sports and influenced many brands in Europe.
The New Sportswear
The real breakthrough in sportswear started after the wars in the 1950s and 60s with the creation of synthetic fabrics and new machine knitting techniques. Sportswear could now be produced in mass production all over the world. Nylon, which was originally used in military gear, enabled designers to use it for tops, sports suits, and running shorts making them more comfortable and stretchy. Activewear with zippers, pockets, straps, and other features that allow the wearer to be comfortable practicing different sports and movements.
The New Sportswear
Movie characters in Hollywood helped accelerate the wear of sports clothes for leisure activities. The 1970s onward saw a huge change in sportswear and an increase in designers establishing their names in the sports fashion industry.
In 1971, actor Bruce Lee wore this red two-piece tracksuit in TV show and during the mid-1970s, everyone started wearing these cool comfortable stretchy tracksuits. During the same year, Adidas produced the famous Stan Smith tennis shoes, originally named Robert Haillet and then renamed after the top-era’s tennis player. The Stan Smith gained huge popularity till today and were adopted by many other brands.
Over the years, sportswear achieved phenomenal development and it became a major fashion trend in the mid-1980s. Today, sportswear is now the clothes we can wear every day regardless of time, place, and age.
Read the guide to learn about all the different styles, materials, and properties of sports clothing that exist today.