Pre Twentieth Century

The origins of sportswear, so intimately tied to the rise of sports, are complex, arising from pervasive social change and cultural developments in the mid-nineteenth century. Previously, sport had been the domain of the landed well-to-do, revolving mostly around horses, shooting, and the hunt. Clothing generally was modified fashion wear, but distinctions between the clothing of the country and of town had appeared as early as the eighteenth century. Men, especially young men, wore the new collared, sometimes double-breasted, skirtless but tailed frock for shooting or country wear, itself probably adapted from the military uniform of the early eighteenth century. This coat was quickly adopted into fashionable dress for young gentlemen. Fox or stag hunting called for skirted coats and high boots to protect the legs, and for trim tailoring that would not hamper the rider maneuvering rough terrain and the new fences that were an outcome of the British Enclosure Acts (1760-1840). These acts, by transferring common grazing lands to private holdings, resulted in fences never needed before, thereby adding new challenges to crosscountry riding and revolutionizing the sport of hunting.

Ralph Lauren Equestrian Hunt
Ralph Lauren sportswear. Two models show outfits from Ralph Lauren's spring/summer 1994 pret-a-porter collection. Elegant sportswear is a hallmark of Lauren's designs. © Brooke Randy/ Corbis Sygma. Reproduced by permission.

The long, straight, narrow, severely tailored riding coats that emerged toward the end of eighteenth-century England traveled to France as the redingote, to become a high-fashion garment for both men and women for the next several decades, through the 1820s. Eventually, red coats became the acceptable color for the hunt, possibly for the obvious reason of making the riders more easily visible. As early as the eighteenth-century, women also adopted severely tailored riding coats based directly on men's styles, creating a standard that still characterizes women's sportswear in the early twenty-first century. Americans, both men and women, followed the English lead in sporting activity. These upper-class choices set the tone and provided the models for the future, but it took democratization to effect change overall. That came with the industrial revolution and the rise of leisure activity among even the poorer classes.

With the movement of the population away from its agrarian past into the cities, reformers realized that the working classes had no real outlets other than drinking

Women Fashion The 17th Century

Active sports ensemble. A model displays a 1952 Claire Mc-Cardell sportswear design. McCardell was one of several American designers who popularized sportswear for women after World War II (1939-1945). The comfort and versatility of sportswear helped it to quickly become a staple of American leisure clothing. © Bettmann/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.

Active sports ensemble. A model displays a 1952 Claire Mc-Cardell sportswear design. McCardell was one of several American designers who popularized sportswear for women after World War II (1939-1945). The comfort and versatility of sportswear helped it to quickly become a staple of American leisure clothing. © Bettmann/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.

for what little leisure time they had. In an era of revivalist fervor that preached temperance, the concerned middle classes sought other, safer avenues of activity for the poorer classes. Both active and spectator sport and games helped fill that gap. European immigrants to the United States, particularly those from Germany and the Scandinavian countries, brought a variety of outdoor sports and games for men with them, and an accompanying culture of health and exercise that they nurtured in their private clubs. Clothing for these activities was more relaxed than the street clothes of the time, and consisted often of a shirt and trouser combination. Native-born Americans also had had a long history of team games, early versions of various ball games that continued to be played once the population moved to the cities. However, it was baseball, with its singular attire, that most influenced men's clothing for sport. Baseball had emerged as a popular team game with new rules after the first meeting of the elite New York Knickerbocker Base Ball Club with the New York Nines at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey, on 19 June 1846. By the 1850s, many other more democratic clubs of workers played the game as well, quickly turning it into America's favorite sport. In 1868, the Cincinnati Redstockings were the first major team to adopt a uniform of bloused shirt, baggy knee breeches, and sturdy knee socks. The unusual pants, so different from the long stove-pipe trousers of the time, were named after Washington Irving's seventeenth-century character, Dietrich Knickerbocker—not coincidentally the same surname the first baseball team in America had adopted as its own. These became the accepted trouser for active sports in general, and were dubbed "knickerbockers" after the original team. Knickerbockers^ success may be seen in their appearance for the next century for shooting, bicycling, hiking, and golf. By the 1920s, they were even worn by women.

Active sports uniforms and clothing grew out of necessity. Players needed protection from bodily harm in contact sports like football and hockey; they also needed to let the body breathe and enable it to move as easily and freely as possible while performing the sport. The entire history of active sports clothing is tied to higher education, the increasingly rapid developments in textile technology, and the Olympics. For example, football, a new and favorite game in men's colleges in the late nineteenth century, adopted a padded leather knickerbocker, pairing it with another innovation, the knitted wool jersey pullover. Lightweight wool jersey, an English invention of the 1880s, was perfect for men's sporting pullovers (which soon were referred to as "jerseys"). Perhaps the most enduring of these has been the rugby shirt—striped, collared, and ubiquitous. It had its beginnings as the uniform for the "new" nineteenth-century game begun at the venerable British school, Rugby, but proved so enduring that it is still worn in the early 2000s, by men, women and children who never thought of playing the game. Jersey was equally adopted into women's dress for sport as well. The new lawn tennis of the 1870s was ripe for a flexible fabric that allowed greater movement, and jersey filled that need by the 1880s. In that same decade, students in the new women's colleges left behind their corsets, petticoats, and bustles for simpler gathered dirndl-style skirts and jersey tops taken directly from men's styles in order to participate in sports like crew and baseball. At the same time, men's schools added a heavier outer layer of wool knit to keep the body warm, and since athletic activity brought on healthy sweating, "sweater" clearly described its role. When a high roll collar was added, the "turtleneck," still a staple of sportswear, was born. The college environment was important because it allowed a looser, less rigid, more casual kind of clothing on campuses frequently isolated from the formality of fashionable urban attire. Soon after the introduction of these pieces of specific clothing for sports in collegiate settings, women borrowed them, wearing them for their own sports and leisurewear from the end of the nineteenth century and on.

The modern Olympic Games introduced new generations of active sportswear. From the first meet in 1896, men appeared in very brief clothing to compete in track and field and swimming events: singlets, or tank tops, with above-the-knee shorts, and knit—sometimes fine wool and sometimes silk—skin-baring one-piece suits for swim competition. More surprising than these were the bikini-like liners that men wore under the sheer silk suits, without the tops, as typical practice garb. These items became the clothing for sport for men as the century progressed; even the briefs under the suits found their way into swimwear for men and women some half-century or so after their introduction.

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