The clothing we see everywhere today had to start somewhere. In this era of social media and influencers, it gets harder and harder to tell who the original creator of a trend or item is. The clothing we wear without even thinking about it had to start somewhere, right? One person decided to push the boundaries a little bit which ultimately led us to where we are today. After a little bit of digging, I found out where some of the most-worn items today originated from and how they became so widely popularised.
Before lockdown, I swore I would only wear activewear when I was exercising. I lasted a full two days into April before I caved and started rotating different pairs of leggings every day of the week. I’ve officially joined the activewear-as-normal-clothing club, and I know I’m not in this boat alone.
Leisurewear of any kind was reserved exclusively for the elite prior to 1920. Tailored dresses were the only form of sportswear available to women. The true beginning of activewear as we know it today was World War II. During this period the practicality of clothing was taken into greater consideration. In the following decades, different stretch fabrics were slowly introduced. This allowed for clothing with greater mobility to be popularised. The explosion of activewear by brands such as Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren in the 1970s made every day sportswear a wardrobe staple. Then the aerobics craze of the 1980s happened, thanks to icons such as Jane Fonda and Richard Simmonds. Pretty soon activewear was everywhere in popular culture. This caused activewear to reach the level at which it has remained today. Increased awareness of health and fitness, coupled with the growing emergence of different activewear brands, has created the world of leggings that we know today. The leg warmers gave way for the velour jumpsuit which gave way to the dominance of Lululemon we know today.
Turtlenecks or polo necks initially began as sportswear, as they were first worn by English Polo players in the 1860s. These then evolved into a middle-class clothing item once author Noël Coward began wearing turtlenecks in the 1920s. Turtlenecks were exclusively for men only during this time. This norm remained in place until the 1950s. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s turtlenecks underwent an enormous change. During this period, they became associated with artists, counter-culturists and radical academics. In the 1957 film Funny Face starring Audrey Hepburn, Hepburn’s character declared “I’m different”, whilst wearing a black turtleneck and exploring her beatnik persona. This solidified the turtleneck’s place in the counter-culture. In the 1970s, the turtleneck became associated with the women’s liberation movement after it was worn by leading activist Gloria Steinem. Popular with counter-culturists since the 1950s, turtlenecks were adopted by one of the foremost counter-cultural groups of the 1970s, the Black Panther Party. The turtleneck has become a fixture in the mainstream and is no longer directly associated with counter-culturists, but every time you wear one now just remember the political statement it would have made not too long ago.
As with most sportswear, biking shorts were invented for men. They developed from a simple knitted short in the 19th century to being made from lycra and nylon. If you think the Kardashians brought this trend around, you would be very wrong. Biking shorts are a 2020 trend wildcard; you either love them or hate them. They made a swift comeback both in streetwear and on high-end runways globally. These are the biggest surprise of them all because Princess Diana is responsible for this one. Lady Di was a trendsetter in both high-end clothing and everyday streetwear that could be easily replicated. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a few girls in the same biking shorts and oversized sweatshirt combo Lady Di was frequently spotted in. Biking shorts have been back recently for a relatively short time, but I think they will soon join the realm of activewear and be worn for anything besides actual biking.
Trends always have an origin. Delving into it is always surprising to see how periods in fashion history eventually repeat themselves. Popular clothing, accessories, and styles are the meeting point between culture and economy in any given period. For example, the maximalism and increased feminisation of women’s fashion in the 1980s was due to the rise of the Religious Right-Wing. This unprecedented time will bring major changes to the way we wear and purchase clothing. Trends can emerge from anywhere, who knows what the next will be.
By Lily Mirfin