The influence of sports on fashion

Thursday, May 21, 2020

In 2020, activewear is a major component of many peoples wardrobes; from gym pants and tracksuits to trainers and football tops. Almost all of our wardrobes will be under the influence of sport, whether you realise it or not. In this post, I'm going to pointing out some of the key fashion staples of the 21st century that we wouldn't have if not for sports and the sporting legends that made them popular.

The tracksuit

The classic two-piece ensemble made up of a jacket (sometimes hooded, often zipped) and elasticised, tie-waist pants intended to be worn as an outer layer over sports uniforms. In the 60s, as mid-century prosperity gave way to "space-age" technology, the tracksuit was born. Made from a combination of synthetic nylon fabrics, these early iterations formed the foundations for the modern tracksuit. 
One of the most iconic wearers was martial arts legend Bruce Lee, who appeared in a burgundy tracksuit on television crime drama Longstreet (1971-72); arguably even more iconic is Glee's very Sue Sylvester who consistently rocks the Adidas three-stripe tracksuit. It was Adidas who pioneered the tracksuit-as-fashion with a version for German footballer Franz Beckenbauer in 1967. In 1986, Run DMC released the song "My Adidas", celebrating the company that made their stage outfits, consummating the tracksuit's status as a covetable, fashionable item.

Chuck Taylor All-stars

Now prepare for a shock; Converse released the All Star in 1917

With its lightweight construction, flexible rubber sole, form-fitting canvas tongue, and a canvas lining that reduced chafing, the high top trainer soon became the go-to shoe for early 20th-century basketball players seeking speed and stability on the court. 
In 1921, basketballer Chuck Taylor became a salesman and ambassador for the All Star. It was him that came up with the classic star ankle medallion that Converse is now famous for. The All Star was the official shoe of the 1936 U.S. Olympic basketball team and in WWII it was adopted by the U.S, Air Force for physical training. Basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain famously scored 100 points wearing a pair. 
However, by the 70's the All Stars monopoly on the court was challenged by the technical advancements of competing models. Due to postwar consumer culture, these simple and sturdy trainers became a stable shoe for children. Their appeal to non-sporting audiences prompted Converse to release the low-cut oxford style in 1957 and the plethora of colours and patterns that continue to endure today.

Nike Air Force 1

The year was 1982 when the Nike Air Force 1's made their debut in the NBA, launching a franchise that would become the blueprint for status trainers in the 20th century. 
Nike had been using air cell technology for over a decade but this was the first use of this lightweight midsole cushioning in a basketball shoe. What designer, Bruce Killgore, didn't realise at the time was that he had created more than just a sturdy basketball high top. He had produced what would become one of the most iconic shoes in urban streetwear; a shoe that would earn tributes in music, numerous imitations, and a place in the wardrobe of every teenage girl. 
Over the past 30 years, Nike has released nearly 2,000 versions, whether that be mass-market releases or exclusive celebrity collaborations. 

Sports Jerseys

When African-American football player Colin Kaepernick chose not to stand for the national anthem throughout the 2016 season, he explained this gesture was in protest to the police brutality that African Americans face every day. By the end of that season, his jersey had become the NFL's bestseller, with its buyers extending way beyond just sports fans. 
Sporting a football top in the UK was practically unseen until the '90s, with the exception of the children's replica kits. The surge in replica shirts was first sparked by the 1990 World Cup which encouraged clubs to strike more lucrative shirt deals with companies who then started to make larger adult sizes. This commercialism coincided perfectly with the introduction of the Premier League in 1992.
However, it's safe to say that American sports jerseys are definitely more ingrained in popular fashion, owing a lot to 90's hip-hop artists. I myself, having never watched a basketball or baseball game, have owned both a Yankees and a Lakers top.

Ballet flats

Ballerinas first started to become stars in the 19th century and it was at this point that the previously heeled and buckled ballet shoe began to develop into the classic slipper that we recognise today. Slowly, flat-soled ballet shoes became the standard and were promoted in America by Italien immigrant Salvatore Capezio who became the primary shoemaker for ballet dancers worldwide. 
Designer Claire McCardell recognised that they could be adapted for everyday wear for modern women and so in 1941 she commissioned Capezio to add a hard sole for her collection. This marked the moment when the ballet flat was intersected with fashion, but it also facilitated women's broadening, active lifestyles by providing comfort and style. Trendsetters, such as Brigitte Bardot, soon adopted the shoe and while their populace waned in the mid-60's they came back to stay in the '80s when Princess Dianna incorporated them into her wardrobe.


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