As with every other major fashion movement, sportswear has changed radically a number of times over the years. In fact, to say that the sportswear we know and love today is nothing like that of yesteryear would be something of an understatement.
The origins of modern sportswear are known to date back to the 1870s. It was during this time that a British designer by the name of John Redfern became one of the first to begin designing clothing specifically for sports and activities. Prior to this, it was simply a case of using whatever worked best from your normal wardrobe. He made clothes primarily for women who took part in archery, yachting, tennis and horse riding. Functional and fashionable at the same time, it wasn’t long before those purchasing Redfern’s clothes began wearing them on an everyday basis, as opposed to only when taking part in sporting activities.
This is agreed by many to represent the origin of sports fashion as we know it today.
ALT: Women’s sportswear to play tennis
The trend continued for decades and a growing number of leading designers began making their own sportswear collections. In the 1920s, designers like Jean Patou and Coco Chanel released collections that were closer to sportswear than anything they’d ever produced before. Tennis became a primary focus for many of those getting into sportswear design, as designers shifted away from pure functionality and worked on garments that were suitable for all purposes. Chanel in particular became extremely well known for producing clothes that were of a “sports type”, leading to a Harper’s Bazaar special in 1926 on the growth and prominence of sportswear design.
In the decades between the 1930s and 1970s, more designers entered the sportswear arena to focus on garments of style and practicality in equal measures. Sportswear began gaining traction particularly heavily in the Unites States, where rather than focusing on exclusive and inaccessible designs, sportswear designers unleashed affordable, accessible garments and clothing lines on the public. These were the kinds of highly fashionable garments that were created with mass-production and low prices in mind, which in turn ensured their enormous popularity and the expansion of the sportswear movement in general.
As the decades went on, the sportswear ‘look’ itself became synonymous with health, clean living and a sense of self-pride in general. Despite the fact that the garments themselves were designed to suit all body shapes and types, allow free movement and deliver unrivalled comfort, it was predominantly athletic and well-groomed individuals that were associated with sportswear.
Toward the end of the 20th century, some of the biggest designers the industry has ever known began not just creating sportswear, but creating enormous and permanent sportswear sub-brands. For example, Tommy Hilfiger, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and many more besides created extensive collections of garments, which along with being highly practical and interchangeable were also the height of fashion. That being said, the garments they were producing were in most respects identical to those of sports-focused brands like Nike, Adidas and so on – these latter brands offering ultra-versatile and fashionable garments for much lower prices.
ALT: Womens’s sportswear to run
This is something that continued right up until today, creating a two-sided sportswear market for the modern consumer. On one side, there are the designer labels like those listed above, which continue to produce quality sportswear that’s more about looking great than getting down n’ dirty. On the other side, there are the sports-focused brands that create garments primarily for the purpose of getting active, though also happen to be stylish enough for everyday use. For the overwhelming majority of active types, it tends to be the latter that garners the most interest.
From a 21st century perspective, the line between sportswear and sports fashion has become too blurred to accurately define. The Internet in particular has made it easier and cheaper than ever before for consumers to stock up on whatever they want for the lowest possible prices. Whether it’s a pair of yoga pants for £1 from China, £30 from Puma or £140 from Gucci, there’s endless variety at every level. But when it comes to the kinds of clothing that balances form and function in equal measures, it’s usually advisable to look somewhere around the middle.
Women´s sportswear should be available to all possibilities. In fact, sportswear should be comfortable and have quality without us having to pay a high price for them. “Do you know what my favourite part of the game is? The opportunity to play”, that’s what Mike Singletary said once. Why don’t we pursuit that beautiful quote?