When increased time for leisure and higher disposable incomes, from the late nineteenth century onward, allowed popular participation in outdoor recreation and sporting activities, similar outfits made of natural fibers were worn for a variety of pastimes, such as cycling, golf, hiking, riding, archery, cricket, soccer, tennis, mountaineering, and field and winter sports. Modifications or improvisations adapted clothing for a specified activity. During the twentieth century, sportswear became specialized and easily identified. Team colors and uniforms allow team members to quickly recognize each other and are worn by fans to show support, symptomatic of a commodity culture. Sportswear has transposed into fashion wear, worn for purely aesthetic or comfort reasons by people not taking part in any physical activity.
There are as many distinct sporting activities around the world as there are cultures, involving millions of participants either as individuals or team members. Aware of the wide variety of culturally specific pastimes and sporting activities, attention focuses on those pursued as part of the culture of modernity, spread through global networks of trade and migration, following industrialization during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Sports historian Richard Holt, in Sport and the British, describes how many sports originated in Britain, forming an important part of an evolving modern lifestyle within an urban industrial setting. These sports were transported, along with industry and ensuing cultural change, to countries of the British Empire and other nations around the world.
International governing bodies for individual sports not only define the rules of play but also set common standards of dress or regulations governing the type of clothing to be worn by athletes and participants in sporting competition. Rules and regulations ensure fairness and mutual understanding of objectives and permissible means of achieving them in games and contests. Sports historian Tony Collins argues in Sport in Capitalist Society that as well as being a physical activity promoting fitness and fair play for participants, sport also developed into an important aspect of the leisure and entertainment industry, part of the consumer society integral to modern capitalism.
Before the Industrial Revolution (sport can be said to have undergone its own industrial revolution in the last quarter of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries), there were no specially designed sports garments. Players wore whatever was the fashion of the time for everyday wear or work, perhaps with some adaptations. With the rise of the weekend, higher disposable incomes, increasing sports participation, and commercialized leisure, combined with the emergence of mass production, distribution, and retail, a market emerged for clothing worn only for sport or leisure. By the early years of the twentieth century, designs emerged specifically for a particular sport. Phillis Cunnington and Alan Mansfield’s English Costume for Sport and Outdoor Recreation comprehensively traces the evolution of outfits worn for a number of different sports through the four centuries up to 1900. Their work is encyclopedic in scope, covering dress worn for cricket, soccer, equestrianism, horse racing, hockey, croquet, golf, polo, hunting, archery, hawking, shooting, cycling, angling, climbing, skating, swimming, and walking. Their illustration details bear witness to the movement away from generic garments worn for a variety of outdoor leisure purposes or everyday wear, such as knickerbockers, tweed Norfolk jackets, lounge or sack suits, and jackets and gored or pleated skirts, used for cycling, shooting, walking, golf, and even winter activities like ice skating and tobogganing.
Details and diagrams of some of the design intricacies and innovation by British manufacturers that helped adapt items of clothing for use for sports were registered to help combat commercial piracy and copying by competitors, with registered designs archived at the United Kingdom’s Public Records Office in Kew. Fashion specialist Sarah Levitt describes many of these registered designs in Victorians Unbuttoned, discussing and illustrating details of adaptations and innovations in garment designs for riding habits, tennis jackets and shoes, cycling outfits, soccer jerseys and boots, and layered rowing and cricket jackets and jumpers. These innovative and sometimes eccentric ideas included a riding habit skirt that incorporated a pouch for the lady’s knee and cycling skirts pleated or divided behind a draped front panel to allow freedom of movement and possible shortening to avoid the chain.
For women, the choice of style and material of a garment was especially important, not just to facilitate movement but more importantly to maintain their modesty by not revealing legs, arms, or perspiration. A popular style was a long tweed gored skirt, buttoned at the front, or perhaps one with a front or rear pleat, which could be shortened with integrated tapes or buttons. One method of shortening a skirt was with a band of buttons below the waist and corresponding buttonholes at the hem, so it could be quickly lengthened again when propriety demanded. A band of heavier fabric or leather around the hem of the skirt helped protect it from slush, mud, and water and hold it down. This skirt style was a favorite with female cyclists and also popular for golf, tennis, and walking.
The story of women’s sportswear must include the move toward female emancipation beginning in the late nineteenth century, the rational dress or dress reform movement, and the gradual acceptance of bifurcated garments for the lower body. The rational dress movement created an awareness of pantaloons or bloomers to give greater freedom of movement than long, heavy skirts, and these were sometimes described as Turkish costumes. Dress reform, as promoted by the rational dress movement, is discussed by Patricia Cunningham in the Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion and by Kristina Stankovski in the A–Z of Fashion.
Although slow to be adopted as outerwear, bloomers or pantaloons were worn by female cyclists underneath their skirts. The revealing of legs was seen as indecent and also the wearing of trouser-type garments that emphasized their shape was immodest. By the 1890s, young women and girls playing sport in school or college could wear pantaloons or bloomers beneath a tunic top or gymslip when activities took place in a secluded space that was not public and open to the male gaze. Gender segregation in British and U.S. schools enabled this concession for girls’ physical education to occur behind their walls, providing the young women covered up with a skirt in public. J. A. Mangan discusses this important development in the history of women’s dress in A Sport-Loving Society. This same phenomenon in women’s colleges in the United States is described by Patricia Campbell Warner, dress scholar, in When the Girls Came Out to Play; she also describes the evolution of women’s rowing, swimming, tennis, and team sport uniforms and girls’ gym suits worn in American schools. Sports historian Jean Williams examines the dress of soccer-playing young working women and girls in her history of women’s soccer in Britain, A Game for Rough Girls. Some female teams were playing in knickerbockers worn beneath a short skirt by 1895, although other teams preferred gymslips (sleeveless tunic, belted), a garment soon associated with girls’ school uniforms of the first half of the twentieth century. Black stockings meant no bare flesh was displayed. Women who could afford to do so had ridden horses for centuries but propriety dictated the wearing of skirts and never riding astride. Riding habits were designed so that the legs and feet of a lady riding side saddle would always be covered; this was often dangerous and had fatal consequences, as skirts could become caught on the saddle and drag the rider along the ground as she would not fall clear of the horse. Not until the early twentieth century did some daring women ride astride wearing knee-length breeches similar to men’s, but covered by the skirts of a long jacket.
In winter sports too, in the early days of tobogganing from the 1880s and skiing from the late 1890s, women participants wore skirts and jackets like those for cycling and golf. Beginning in the 1910s, some women began to wear breeches under a long jacket or coat, sometimes under a skirt out of propriety. Many criticisms of women skiers who wore trousers arose, accusing them of being unfeminine and ungraceful, but by the 1920s, specifically designed ski suits with breeches made of water-resistant fabrics were marketed by manufacturers like Aquascutum and Burberry in gabardine. Dress for both men and women taking part in winter sports is discussed by social historian Susan Barton in Healthy Living in the Alps, and by historian E. John B. Allen in The Culture and Sport of Skiing. In ice skating, another sliding sport, long dresses for women gave way to specially designed outfits providing freedom of movement and allowing female skaters to develop and demonstrate more athletic movements and jumps from around 1920. Female ice skaters, despite performing figures on freezing ice and often outdoors, never wore trousers for competition. Skirts with matching bloomers or knickers with stockings or tights gradually got shorter to free their legs from fabric encumbrance. Skating expert James R. Hines, in Figure Skating the Formative Years, discusses the dress of male and female skaters since the seventeenth century.
Lawn tennis began as an outdoor social game for the affluent classes from the 1870s in Britain. The social aspect of the game—young men and women playing together at doubles—made an excellent vehicle for matchmaking and courtship, in a similar way to the established outdoor game of croquet. For both tennis and croquet, Victorian players’ dress followed contemporary fashion. In the 1860s, croquet was the first outdoor game that females played frequently. As both games presented opportunities to meet a potential spouse, players wanted to look attractive. In the 1860s, crinolines were in fashion and although the width of the crinoline frames gave women’s legs space to move freely, the overskirt material could get in the way of the croquet balls. The skirts were modified so the bottom of it could be hitched up clear of the balls, a similar method to that employed to shorten skirts for ice skating. When tennis came on the scene in the 1870s, women wore the bustle dress with a tight corset and would not have dreamed of playing without being fashionable. Men began to wear striped blazers and flannel trousers, sometimes held up by an elasticated belt with an S-shaped snake metal fastener, for tennis and other leisure activities like boating, obviously giving them more freedom of movement than women with long skirts. Both sexes normally wore hats, and for men the straw boater completed the late Victorian masculine leisure look.
By the last years of the nineteenth century, women’s sporting attire developments began to focus on giving more movement to arms, with looser sleeves and wider skirts, gored or pleated. Pockets were added for spare balls or a special tennis apron with pockets could be worn. Rubber-soled, nonslip shoes completed the outfit. In the Edwardian years, skirts began to be slightly shorter, clearing the feet. Over the next decade, tennis dresses began to be much shorter, like mainstream fashion. After World War I, a truly rationalized costume ensemble emerged, as fashion historian Christopher Breward outlines in Fashion v Sport, arguing that a sense of modishness in tennis dress design elevated the sport’s association with glamor, and put display above practical considerations. Corsets were discarded and bras, girdles, and liberty bodices gave the desired female shape of the 1920s. Diane Elisabeth Poirier, in Tennis Fashion, illustrates tennis dress changes over the decades since 1900. From the 1930s, men began to discard flannel trousers in favor of shorts and women showed off tanned legs with ankle socks, with white the acceptable color for most of the twentieth century. Tennis dress hemlines became shorter during the 1950s and 1960s onward, until barely covering coordinating panties. Tennis styles continued to follow main trends in contemporary fashion design, with that trend emphasizing freedom, athleticism and, for women, emancipation. Developments in textile technology and social outlook by the end of the twentieth century enabled tennis players to wear body-emphasizing, Lycra stretch fabric. Color made a court comeback, exemplified by the garments of Jennifer Capriati, Serena and Venus Williams, and Andre Agassi. Even so, some dress standards survive. In 2002, Tommy Haas was sent off at the Flushing Meadow championship in New York for wearing a sleeveless top, while at Wimbledon obligatory whites maintain tradition.
Tennis was the sport that gave birth to branded sportswear, promoted by star players. Nicknamed “the crocodile,” Frenchman René Lacoste was a champion tennis player of the 1920s. In 1929, Lacoste’s business launched a tennis shirt with a buttoned placket, bearing an embroidered logo of a crocodile honoring his nickname. Fred Perry was a British tennis star, and Wimbledon champion three times between 1934 and 1936. After his playing career, he went into business with Austrian soccer player Tibby Wegner, who suggested he produce a wrist sweatband to absorb perspiration, the first such sweatband, which was in production from the late 1940s. Wegner’s next idea was to manufacture a white cotton piqué sports shirt with short sleeves and a buttoned placket, becoming known as the polo shirt, which was launched at Wimbledon in 1952. Its laurel wreath logo, embroidered over the left breast, signified victory. Visible, externally placed logos continue the tradition of wearing club badges and emblems on sportswear and the importance of logo branding is discussed by twentieth-century design specialist Jane Pavitt in “Logos.” More colors were added to the Fred Perry shirt range from the late 1950s. In the 1960s, the shirt became popular as a fashion garment and a favorite with mods and skinheads, continuing to be worn as casual wear into the twenty-first century.
In the water as well as on land, sporting attire evolved with changing standards of morality. From bathing machines to bikinis, swimming and bathing suits underwent a massive transformation in what it was permissible to wear without causing outrage. Emerging from the privacy of a nineteenth-century bathing machine, women were covered by a long shift. Actual swimming was not usually the objective: bathing was ostensibly for health reasons. For males, swimming naked had been permissible until Victorian modesty insisted that bathing drawers were worn. When mixed bathing on the beach or in the growing number of swimming facilities, indoor and outdoor, became popular, specially designed swimwear was expected. Even so, female bathers’ bodies were entirely covered, with a sleeved, knee-length tunic, often belted, worn with bloomers or pantaloons, stockings, shoes, and a hat. Patricia Campbell Warner traces the evolution of female bathing wear over 150 years from the mid-nineteenth century in “Sportswear.” These developments were connected to modesty standards for women, gender expectations, and the mores of each subsequent generation. Until after World War I, men too covered most of their torso with a sleeved jersey and drawers, the top of which became sleeveless before the costume diminished to just a pair of trunks, typified by the stretch briefs made by Speedo. For racing, the Amateur Swimming Association defined acceptable wear for competition. Swimsuits of knitted wool jersey fitted tightly when dry, clung to the body when wet, and did not hold their shape in the water. Serious competitors wore thinner suits, sometimes of silk, which could become transparent when wet. Underpants were therefore worn underneath and females covered up with a cape immediately after leaving the water.
The cult of the sun, and the health and beauty associated with a tan linked the women’s swimsuit with glamor, a means of emphasizing the idealized female body. The bathing beauty of popular culture appeared from the 1920s, an image culminating with the bikini-clad or even topless bather from mid-century. This glamorous image promoted tourist resorts and beach holidays from the time that popular leisure opportunities and paid holidays were beginning to extend to the working class, in an age of mass culture and consumerism. Swimsuits worn in beauty contests sexualized the image by teaming the garment with high-heeled shoes. Swimwear for women became associated with contour fashion as it endeavored to support and shape the female form. From the 1930s Lastex (a yarn made of latex covered with fabric strands) revolutionized the design of swimsuits, which could now be stretchy and maintain their shape when wet. Cotton swimsuits, ruched with elasticated rubber yarn, were popular in the 1950s and 1960s. From the late twentieth century, DuPont’s stretchy Lycra fabric was incorporated into swimwear design. In The Swimsuit: Fashion from Poolside to Catwalk, the bathing suit as a fashion garment is explored by Christine Schmidt with particular reference to Australia, where the beach and swimming contribute to national identity. The relationship between fashion, sport, textile technology, and the body is discussed by fashion journalist Sarah Kennedy in The Swimsuit: A Fashion History. As well as fabric innovation, technology can also be applied to design to create streamlined suits, improving speed by reducing drag in the water, such as Speedo’s full-body catsuits, launched by the Australian team at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
For athletics, Victorian sportsmen adapted garments normally worn as underwear. Round-neck or buttoned sports jerseys, with long johns, knickerbockers or tights, sometimes with shorts over the top, are illustrated by Cunnington and Mansfield in English Costume for Sports and Recreation. Sports jerseys and shorts remained the ubiquitous dress for athletes, male and female, into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, although Australian athlete Cathy Freeman’s 400-meter victory at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 was achieved wearing an aerodynamic hooded catsuit. The main developments in athletics attire are in the fabrics used in their manufacture. In the twenty-first century, materials are lightweight and wick away perspiration; they fit closely to minimize drag and reveal the athlete’s toned body.
For soccer and rugby too, outfits for play in the nineteenth century were based on everyday wear: long trousers or knee-length knickerbockers with long socks, shirts or jerseys and, on the head, a cap (pillbox or knitted brewer’s cap). The Handbook of Football advised players in 1867 to try to arrange for one side to wear striped jerseys of one color, such as red, and the other to wear another, perhaps blue, in order to prevent confusion over who was in which team. Knickerbockers continued to be worn in both soccer and rugby, until gradually replaced by shorts from the 1880s, by which time caps were abandoned during play. Team uniforms and badges on jerseys began to appear from the mid-1860s. Plain round collars were worn up to the 1870s, but by the 1880s, turndown collars had become popular. By the late twentieth century, collars were usually only worn by rugby players. The years between 1860 and 1914 saw the development, rationalization, and standardization of soccer players’ uniforms. Since then, changes have been mostly in the length of shorts and shirt details such as long or short sleeves, trim, and fabric. New artificial fibers mean shirts and shorts are now lighter and colors bright. The major professional clubs change the detail or sponsor’s logo as often as every season, but not the basic color schemes of their shirts. The shirts are not only worn by players but also purchased by club supporters as part of the commodification of sport discussed by Garry Crawford in Consuming Sport—Fans, Sport and Culture. From the 1950s to 1970s, replica kits for “boys” made by Umbro were only available in plain red or blue with white shorts, a generic uniform worn by many different clubs. Since the 1980s, replica shirts have been worn by supporters at matches in order to identify with their club. Replica kit is big business for major clubs, which have their own shops selling club-branded items to fans: the development of this is traced by Christopher Stride, Jean Williams, David Moor, and Nick Catley in their article “From Sportswear to Leisurewear: The Evolution of English Football League Shirt Design in the Replica Kit Era.”
Until the 1990s, most British fans were content to wear a scarf or hat knitted in their club’s colors. In crowd photographs from the early to mid-twentieth century, the flat cloth cap was ubiquitous in an almost entirely male crowd. During the 1970s, some fans would have the names of their team embroidered on their scarves, sometimes worn tied to the wrist or hanging from the belt loops of their jeans. The 1970s British working-class youth subculture of the skinheads became associated with soccer hooliganism. In the 1980s, violence surrounding soccer hooligan gangs caused a moral panic in the media and led to changes in the layout and security of stadia. These gangs of young men were known as Casuals, so called because they wore casual clothing rather than club colors, and they were obsessed with expensive designer labels (many of these brands had begun life as sportswear but had crossed over into the fashion mainstream). The Casuals and their clothing in the 1980s and 1990s are discussed by Phil Thornton in Casuals—Football, Fighting and Fashion and illustrated photographically in a book by two enthusiasts for the style, Dave Hewitson and Jay Montessori, 80s Casuals. Authors Paolo Hewitt and Mark Baxter, in The Fashion of Football, explore not just the clothes worn by mainly male soccer fans on the terraces during the 1960s to 2000s, but by some of the more stylish players off the pitch, as from the 1960s some soccer players, such as George Best and Bobby Moore, began to be seen as celebrities.
By the end of the twentieth century sport was a major global business. In “The Sportification of Culture,” cultural theorist Susan Andrew’s contribution in Winning: The Design of Sports, argues that in the 1990s, sport invaded areas of life with no previous presence, making it as culturally dominant as rock music had been in the 1960s and 1970s. By the end of the twentieth century, sport pervaded business, politics, art, television, advertising, film, fashion, and design. The Key Note Marketing Report for 2009 on Sports Clothing and Footwear looks at the economics of sportswear and information about the market situation of international sports brands. In 2008, the global market for sports clothing was worth $6 billion (£3.25 billion) or 8 percent of the total clothing market, while sports footwear was worth another $2.4 billion (£1.28 billion), 19 percent of the footwear market. By that time, in the United Kingdom, most sportswear was imported from the Far East. Vertical integration of manufacturers, importers, and retailers had become characteristic of the organization of the sportswear industry, examples being the Pentland Group, comprising Mitre, Berghaus, Speedo, and JD Sports; and Sports Direct, which included Dunlop, Slazenger, and Kangol.
A common thread through the sportswear story is how sport and its associated ensembles play an important role in social cohesion and fostering a sense of belonging. Originating in the sporting culture of British public schools, badges, sashes, regalia, sweaters, ties, and hats importantly signified a shared competitive ethos, as sports historian Mike Huggins has indicated—items also adopted by American colleges. After 1896, the Olympic Games evolved as a forum for national pride and sporting display. Teams turned out for the opening ceremony’s Parade of Athletes wearing smart uniforms adorned with national insignia. Historian Geraldine Biddle-Perry and fashion design experts Karen LaBat and Susan Sokolowski outline the evolution of this ceremonial national display. Innovation in textile technology is another strand running through the story of development and change in sportswear. Susan Andrew observes that most recent fashion innovations have come about through developments in fabric technology and sportswear companies create the majority of these new fabrics. Many sports equipment and clothing companies collaborate with textile manufacturers such as Gore-Tex and DuPont to develop fabrics and technology to solve particular problems. Textile technology has always played a role in the production of clothing for sports and leisure. In the nineteenth century, water-resistant Aquascutum, patented in 1851, was used for outerwear for leisure, including golf, cycling, and in the early twentieth century, for ski suits. Burberry’s gabardine fabric, made of woolen yarn, waterproofed before being woven, was also used to make outfits for golf, cycling, skiing, and mountaineering. The cellular cotton fabric, Aertex, used for making sports shirts, was first produced in 1888 by Lewis Haslam and became universally worn as part of school sports uniform in the United Kingdom, as well as being worn for soccer, tennis, netball, cricket, and other sports. Grenfell was a brand of waterproof, close-woven cotton twill clothing worn by mountaineers, race car drivers, and explorers. From 1925, Dunlop’s Lastex incorporated rubber in yarn to produce a stretch fabric that revolutionized bathing suits and underwear especially. Since the appearance of nylon in 1939, synthetic fibers have been incorporated into sportswear, making garments lighter and easy to launder. Clothing and the fabric used have been designed specifically to enhance sporting performance, keep the athlete cool and dry, and keep the adventurer warm. Advanced textile experts Marie O’Mahoney and Sarah E. Braddock explore the marriage of aesthetics and performance in technologically advanced sportswear in Sportstech , as does dress historian Phyllis Tortora in “Technology and Fashion.” For sports such as auto racing, mountaineering, hiking, winter sports, diving, and sailing, the wearer’s life can depend on the technology employed in the design and materials of their apparel.
As indicated, sportswear has crossed over into everyday wear and leisure wear. Jean Williams points out that for many wearers, the brands are as important as the design aesthetic. Beginning with Lacoste and Fred Perry polo-style shirts, association with or endorsement by a particular athlete such as David Beckham can be a major marketing factor. Sweatshirts, originally worn to keep sweaty bodies warm after training sessions, and fleece tops, worn originally by climbers, are now a wardrobe staple that crosses gender and age. Tracksuits are worn as much for relaxing indoors as for trips to the gym or playing field. Adidas, Nike, Reebok, Lonsdale, Kappa, and other brands have diversified their primary products into a whole range of sports and fashion items. Outerwear brands combine style and technology to keep the wearer dry in warm yet breathable fabrics. Berghaus, North Face, Paramo, and Rab make high-performance outerwear worn as often on the High Street as on the high peaks.
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