Iconic fashion item or appropriated sportswear? Whatever your opinion, there’s no denying the tracksuit is one of the most recognisable pieces of apparel on the planet.
Since its invention in the 1930s, the tracksuit’s popularity has ebbed and flowed as fashions tend to do. Recent years, however, have seen what some might consider to be a surprising and unstoppable resurgence.
Fitness trends, music star endorsements, and the rise of the designer tracksuit have combined to propel it to new heights. Add the pandemic-led surge in demand for comfortable working from home outfits and the sky, it seems, is the limit.
Tracksuits were created in the 1930s for the purpose their name suggests, to be worn by athletes around the track. The Sunday Suit, released by Le Coq Sportif in 1939, is commonly regarded as the first tracksuit intended as leisurewear.
It wasn’t until around 30 years later, however, that the tracksuit became truly popularised as a fashion item. In 1967, Adidas created their first apparel item, a tracksuit, and entered an endorsement deal with German footballer Franz Beckenbauer.
Football and sporting endorsements continued to help build popularity for the tracksuit in Great Britain and Europe throughout the 1970s. However, it wasn’t until a certain American music scene adopted the suit in the 1980s that things really took off.
When hip hop chose tracksuits as its unofficial uniform, the stage was set for it to enter the fashion stratosphere. Though many acts became known for wearing loose and comfortable clothing, one in particular stands out in modern memory.
When Run DMC first started dressing head to toe in Adidas tracksuits and trainers, they did it without official sponsorship. Things really exploded, however, when the sportswear giants offered the act $1.5 million dollars to make the partnership official.
Ironically, as tracksuits were exploding globally thanks to influencing high-profile endorsements, their popularity was in decline in the UK. The rise of football hooliganism and violent “ultras” using the tracksuit as their uniform had unfairly tarnished its reputation.
If being associated with violent gangs wasn’t enough to damage the popularity of tracksuits, what happened next certainly was. The 80s’ – if not the century’s – greatest fashion crime, the shell suit came along to shatter credibility for all tracksuits.
Aside from small subcultural resurgences surrounding British “indie” bands and certain sporting events, the 90s spelled decline for the tracksuit. By the end of the century, it seemed the famous clothing’s time in the sun might be over for good.
Just as it seemed things were over for the tracksuit, the 21st Century came along and, with it, four things:
The 21st Century brought with it a huge boom in gym memberships, personal trainers, and a dozen other exercise fads. People wanted to get fit, and they needed the right outfits, so the tracksuit got its call back.
Where hip hop began, grime continued and suddenly a new generation of inspirational artists were picking up endorsement deals. Huge artists like Novelist, Stormzy and Skepta were proudly donning tracksuits on stage and, where they led, fans followed.
As tracksuits found their way onto the radar of higher income influencers, so did the quality, range, and price tag. Turning tracksuits into a luxury fashion item rather than practical comfort wear has moved their popularity to another level.
Working From Home
With the pandemic came the advent of entire nations leaving offices and setting up to work at home. Dressing for comfort became a priority over dressing for business which meant, of course, millions of online tracksuit purchases.
This combination of factors has helped to push tracksuit popularity to new levels over the last five years. Comfort and style are now blended seamlessly by high fashion and high street brands alike.
Tracksuit options now range from light and practical sportswear to fitted two-pieces designed to accentuate those gym-earned figures. You’re now likely to have both old ‘trackies’ for home lounging and a designer suit for out on the town.
With the new era of popularity and extended diversity of options available, there is only one question to ask. This time, more than any time before, is the tracksuit here to stay?
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