The Evolution of Activewear


It hasn’t been easy, nor has it happened overnight, but sportswear managed to become a huge deal in the fashion industry and somehow made it look easy. Going from the tennis court to the runway and finally the street, this is the story of activewear.

From sport to lifestyle, the genesis of a new style

It hasn’t been easy, nor has it happened overnight, but sportswear managed to become a huge deal in the fashion industry and somehow made it look easy. Going from the tennis court to the runway and finally the street, this is the story of activewear.

In the olden days, people played tennis in their everyday formal clothes. Women played tennis wearing long dresses that got shorter over time, and men wore shoes, trousers and shirts. There wasn’t sportswear or breathable fabrics, no seamless t-shirts, no sneakers, nothing.

In the beginning, men sometimes even wore hats on the court, while it was popular for women to hold their hair with bandanas during games. Tennis was an excuse to gather, it was a social event to have fun, and the competition started later. It was in those days that René as a tennis player, conceived the idea of Lacoste, and the crocodile brand was created.

There was a time when sportswear, performance wear, activewear, athleisure and other words, were only used when referring to clothes used for athletic activities. It’s not like this anymore. Funny enough, a hundred years ago, sports were played wearing formal clothes and now, sportswear can be used to go to work. This cycle is called fashion.

The concept of wearing a specific attire for the gym and doing physical activity, in general, came with the creation of spandex and later came nylon. They were flexible and versatile, and so the clothes made with these materials became the favourite in gyms, sports centres and the streets of every city.

In the 70s, a new revolution was about to explode. The theatres showed action movies where Bruce Lee would display an amazing martial arts performance wearing tracksuits that seemed to be the perfect outfit for his powerful and energetic movements.

And then there was the t-shirt, which so far had only been used as underwear and was now the star at the gym for its comfortable feel and relaxed look, perfect for everyday outfits. The tracksuit and the t-shirt made a great match and became the perfect couple.

To make the transition to the streets, tracksuits started being produced in cotton, polyester, velour, and terry. Tracksuits were now everywhere, even in formal events, thanks to the designs introduced by Rhuigi Villaseñor from Rhude, which were called the Traxedo pants, the tracksuit bottoms with a hint of elegance that could suit any occasion.


T-shirts reached their momentum when high-quality materials and different graphics and prints became an important tool in their design.

Vans and Powell-Peralta were the first to make t-shirt culture a thing and using the tees for political and social purposes, the designers Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood put them took them to a whole new level.

The evolution of tracksuits brought the development of the ski-suit as we know it today, making a worldwide transformation of the snow outwear as it found polyester. Polyester was resistant to the weather and was the best and only option for providing warmth while staying dry.

Hermès, Schiaparelli and many others started the sportswear journey in the 20s, using their fame to create activewear for the richest.

After World War II, a new era of performance wear began thanks to the creation of nylon and stretchy synthetic fabrics. They had been used in military uniforms, provided a comfortable feel and were easy to move in freely.

This revolutionary fabric was the beginning of the zips, the hidden hoods, the belts, and many other elements that are fundamental still today in ski suits, utility clothes and all kinds of clothes that follow the uniform trend and other clothes with architectural designs.

In the 80s, winter jackets got covered in neon colours and geometrical prints achieving the flashiest-looking equipment to ski downhill. There is currently an incredible demand for these designs in vintage shops around the world.

The sneakers culture brought incredible growth to the footwear industry in the 70s and 80s, thanks to the popularity of hip hop in the youngest generation.

The iconic Stan Smith by Adidas were instantly famous, going from the tennis court to the street in no time. Those sneakers were originally called Robert Haillet, as the German brand decided to name them like this because of the incredible success of this tennis player back in the days, and the name was changed later on after he retired from tennis. But the biggest story of street-conquering sneakers is the one from the 3-striped Superstars and Run-D.M.C.

By wearing the same clothes from their neighbourhood, Run-D.M.C. changed the culture of streetwear and hip hop forever.


The big moment that sneakers had produced some unique collaborations like PUMA x Jill Sander (1996), PUMA x Alexander McQueen or Chanel x Reebok (2005). And also Nike with Ricardo Tisci, UNDERCOVER, Abloh, sacai, COMMES des GARÇONS or Junya Watanabe and many more.

Puffers were created by Eddie Bauer in the 1930s and were exclusively worn by horse-riders and hunters until the 90s when hip hop brought puffers back to fashion. Polo Ralph Lauren and Helly Hansen are just some of the brands that made the puffer popular in Northern USA before some high-street brands like Raf Simons and Moncler added it to their portfolio.

It became one of many products that were originally technical designs and later gained worldwide attention in the fashion industry.


WORDS: Manuela Palma

The fashion industry is here once again to prove that anything that comes from a piece of fabric could become the next big thing, even after decades of its creation. From its beginnings with the formal clothing in the tennis court to streetwear reaching the runway and activewear finding its public off the court and even landing on some of the most famous ateliers’ portfolios. Sportswear has come a long way in fashion where you can find today military designs like the ones from Craig Green, tracksuits by Palm Angels, puffers from collaborations like The North Face x Supreme or any of the luxury track sneakers that we mentioned before.

Trends have cycles, but with so many sportswear references in today’s fashion, we can be certain that it’s here to stay. And as it grows stronger every day, we better get ready for the ages of utility and comfort.



Subscribe to our newsletter

© Pluriverse 2023
Registered office: Via Romaniello 21/B, Napoli (NA), Italy | N. REA: NA 823189