A sign of the times: How men’s fitness attire has changed over the years

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Though our ancestors have found various ways of keeping themselves in good physical shape over the centuries, it wasn’t until the start of the twentieth century that dedicated clothes were created for sports. In Ancient Greece, athletes would even compete in the nude, Physical Culture Study notes.

That gives you an idea of how recent the concept of fitness clothing actually is – but the history of men’s fitness attire since the 1960s certainly gives us plenty to talk about.

Don’t sweat it – but gym-goers in the 1960s did

In the decade when the Berlin Wall was first assembled, men often rocked mid-thigh shorts, a cotton t-shirt and, on top of that, a grey crewneck sweatshirt for their fitness regime.

In a sense, you could say this sweatshirt’s rise in popularity was the birth of athleisure: the idea of wearing gym clothes well outside the gym’s walls, too.

Lucky number 1970s for celebrities

That’s because the funk era saw the emergence of the celebrity collaboration in the activewear space. This situation was typified by tennis player Stan Smith’s deal with Adidas that led the respected sports brand to create the white tennis shoe the Adidas Stan Smith, which remains well-known to this day.

A glittering array of trends takes hold in the 1980s

The Reagan period was something of a golden age for the tracksuit, at least as far as men were concerned. This is largely due to the aerobic workout trends that took off in the ‘80s, as tracksuits made of polyester, nylon or terry cloth were well-suited for use during cardio sessions.

Men’s workout clothes also became brighter in color and bolder in overall appearance.

A new dawn for the tracksuit in the 1990s

A big reason for that was the pleasing variety of tracksuits available during the ‘90s, when Michael Jordan was an established star on the basketball court. On the subject of him, he gave his name to Air Jordans – the bulky sneakers that, during this period, set the standard for many other sneakers to come.

How 2000s fitness fashion was impressively functional, too

Fortunately, activewear purveyors in the 2000s were savvy enough to know that good looks alone weren’t enough in their wares; they needed to ease performance, too. That’s why the twenty-first century’s first decade saw brands incorporate quick-drying, sweat-wicking properties into their athletic clothing offerings.

This was all important because, without keeping sweat at bay, fitness buffs could too easily end up smelling like gym socks after rigorously working out.

In the 2010s, athleisure truly came into its own

We had seen flickers of it in past decades – but, in the 2010s, athleisure finally established itself firmly, with many high quality tracksuits now counting as athleisure.

“Technology has really pushed the whole industry to come out with products really optimized for its purpose – working out, running, biking, whatever it might be,” fashion marketing professor Bjorn Bengtsson of Parsons School of Design enthused to Men’s Health. “It’s not just about going to the gym anymore.”




Just A Guy Thing is a men's lifestyle magazine focused primarily at guys wanting to better themselves.

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