Vintage Sweats seem to be having a moment at the minute, mainly because of the 90’s and 00’s revival that is currently happening. But what is the history of the sweatshirt? Follow me as we discuss the rich history…
Back in the 1920’s there was an American footballer called Benjamin Russell Jr. Tired of the itchy wool jerseys they were given to train in, he began working on an idea for a new, all cotton version of the football jersey. Swapping out the thick wool for cotton obviously led a more breathable experience when training in them. Thanks to his father Russell Sr, Benjamin’s new idea became a reality and production began not long after. For a while these were just used for training, it wasn’t until the 60’s that the cotton sweatshirt became part of most peoples wardrobe.
During the 60’s, the sweatshirt became an advertising tool for many universities in the US with them branding the sweats with the universities name and year of study. This became a huge trend for anyone who went to university during this time and was a way to show school pride. Many years later, Abercrombie & Fitch capitalised on this and marketing themselves as a ‘Fraternity’ brand.
In the 70’s, sweats started to become more apparent in everybody's day to day apparel. They started to have sun graphics and slogans on them and during this time period, were seen as a vehicle of personal expression. The versatility of the garment made it easy for anyone to incorporate into their day to day wear.
Move forward a few years into the 80’s and that is when they really started to become a key player within the fashion industry. One of the reasons why was due to extreme sports like Surfing and Skateboarding become more popular. With surfers, the sweat was practical beachwear for when they had been hitting the waves all morning and provided warmth. For the skaters, large, oversized sweats were worn for a grunge-esque look. They also added a layer of extra protection between the concrete and the skater. The 80’s take on the sweat really injected a lot more “cool” into the item and took it away from the slogan sweats of the 70’s.
As with most things in the 80’s the Hip-Hop genre really took the sweats trend to the next level. Sweats were seen on breakdancers, rappers, DJ’s, huge bands like Run-DMC and the Sugar Hill Gang wore them for the oversized and functionality nature of the garment. This sent the trend crazy and the majority of people in the 80’s who were ‘somebody’ were seen at one point of their career sporting a sweatshirt in some form. The 80’s also saw the rise of Logomania, brands putting their logo on anything to push brand recognition and increase their sales. Get someone famous in a sweat branded with “Nike” or “Calvin Klein” and that brand would see their sales increase tenfold.
People wanted brands and they wanted to let everyone know which brand they were wearing.
Through the 90’s and the 00’s, the trend kept gaining momentum and just became a part of everyones lives. They were seen as casual wear. Comfort yet still fashionable when they wanted to be. In the UK, the trend took a bit of a beating during the early 2000’s due to the “Chav” culture and some people saw it as “common” to wear certain branded sweats in public. The 90’s also saw the grunge trend come into the public eye with the likes of Nirvana and Alice in Chains which saw the sweat be used in a completely different way to the Hip-Hop stars of that time. Instead we saw a similar style to the skaters of the 80’s with these large oversized style fits.
Nowadays sweats are seeing a huge revival. Everything from vintage sweats to designer pieces in the hundreds or thousands. Most vintage stores up and down the country will tell you that sweats are usually their best selling garments through the spring and autumn months. This again is due to the whole 90’s/00’s revival. We are also seeing brands such as Gucci, Chanel, Fendi and Vivienne Westwood jumping on the trend and creating their own version of the classic piece. Another reason why we could be seeing an increase in them is due to the current global pandemic. Everyone wants something comfortable to work from home in and a sweatshirt is the perfect thing to lounge around it!