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Sports Then and Now

History of the Sports Apparel Industry

Posted on May 18, 2021 by Martin Banks

What’s game day without your favorite jersey? Have you ever wondered why and how the industry got to where it is today?

People have clad themselves in their favorite team’s colors since time immemorial. What was once a symbol of your loyalty remains today — but you have more colorful choices. Here is a brief history of the sports apparel industry so that you can wow your friends on trivia night at the pub.

The Popularity of Sports Apparel Today

Walk down nearly any city street, and you’ll spy at least one person decked out in a football jersey or ready to hit the basketball court. Sports apparel offers multiple advantages, not the least of which is comfort. While such garb comes in a wide range of fabrics, all of them allow you to move your body freely like an athlete. 

Athletic apparel also works for every member of the family. The popularity means you can find gear for your favorite team regardless of your age or where you fit on the gender continuum. You can even deck out your infant in hopes they will grow up a Phillies fanatic or cheesehead. 

Sports apparel isn’t without controversy. Perhaps you are one of many who wondered, for example, if you can get away with leggings or your favorite team’s T-shirt at the office. In general, career experts advise you to stay away from printed shirts, lest you accidentally offend someone. However, few folks outside of diehard Red Sox fans will take umbrage at your Yankees jersey on casual Friday. 

How the Sports Apparel Industry Evolved Through Time 

Even though the concept behind athletic apparel probably existed since human beings first figured out that banding together accomplished more than going solo, the industry as you know it has a brief history. However, you must recall that people didn’t start playing sports for fun until the late 19th century or so. 

Before that, people played countless games, but they often had a secondary purpose — like training for war. The ancient Greeks may have invented the Olympics, but they played the games nude. Perhaps it was better for preparing for hand-to-hand combat?

Early athletes wore a version of street clothes to compete. Males might make do with a T-shirt and a pair of slacks. Women often wore a smaller version of their daily attire, too, which made things downright cumbersome. It wasn’t until brave pioneers like Gertrude Eberle and Alice Marble, respectively, made strides with modern bathing suits and tennis shorts that women could move freely. 

During the 1940s and 50s, synthetic fabrics started evolving athletic gear from cotton jerseys to wear adapted for specific sports. Weather-resistant clothing with concealed pockets and hoods delighted everyone from runners to golfers. 

As fabrics changed, so has the fit of various apparel pieces. Early cotton-based jerseys hung loosely to allow for freedom of movement. However, by the 1970s,  top athletes gravitated toward elastane and polyester, which fit snugly, keeping them from getting tangled in their tops. 

Tips for Wearing Sports Apparel

Today, athletes wear uniforms of all fabrics to take the field, and armchair varieties stock their closets with replicas. Likewise, you can find gear designed to support any sport in which you participate. 

Modern trends allow wearing athletic apparel just about anywhere — you’ll even see it in church. If you take advantage of this trend, here are some tips to make it look appropriate for various settings.

  • Consider the occasion: If you merely need to run to the grocery store, there’s nothing wrong with pulling on a tee over a pair of leggings. However, if you are headed to the office, topping the look with a sleek button-down and a blazer elevates them to workplace-appropriate. 
  • Mind your silhouette: Pairing a baggy sweatshirt over an equally slouchy pair of comfy pants looks sloppy. Save your looser items for the top or mix and match oversized with fitted. 
  • Accessorize: Athletic gear can look too casual with a pair of worn sneakers. However, if you pair a neat tee with a crisp pair of trousers and loafers, you’ll look polished. 

The Fascinating History of the Sports Apparel Industry

People have long worn various colors to show affiliation — sports apparel elevated the practice to an art form. Now that you know the history, get ready to show your team spirit by rocking the right look. 

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