The promise of summer is often broken, but with with a gleeful disregard for the weather the outdoor lifestyle is being celebrated in sports-inspired fashion and – more unusually – in fashionable sportswear. Sport and fashion have been tightly linked for some time. In the 1920s Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel introduced a more relaxed look. Her revolutionary small gage knitwear and fashionably slouchy trousers were the beginnings of luxe sportswear – informal but elegant. In the 1940s and on the other side of the Atlantic, Claire McCardell showed an effortless aesthetic. American sportswear is big business and Claire McCardell was one of its earliest pioneers. Her casual look, simple shapes, wraps and sashes – made perfect sense to women with increasingly busy lives. Today fashion embraces sportswear at every level from the high street to haute couture with its deluxe interpretation. Fibre and fabric innovation has played a large part in the shape and look of sportswear. At the turn of the 20th century the introduction of semi-synthetic viscose (originally developed in 1885) with its drape and fluidity fuelled trends for clothing that was body-conscious and allowed for freedom of movement. Knitted viscose was used a great deal in the 1920s and pure synthetics followed. With their easy-care properties (quick washing and drying times, light weight and great strength) nylon and polyester adapted well to sports attire – withstanding the stresses and strains of endurance sports. Lycra, a synthetic elastic fibre was launched in 1959 by DuPont. By the 1980s Lycra-blends had conquered the western fashion world. The swing to a sporty, body-conscious look coincided with the invention of extremely high-tech microfibres (ultra-fine polyesters and polyamides) that could be either knitted or woven to create super lightweight, breathable, wind and rain resistant fabrics. The results were shown off in curvy garments cut close to the body that clung, supported and streamlined – provocative and powerful. Throughout the 1990s Tommy Hilfiger led his company to phenomenal success by exploiting the influence hip hop and rap and music celebrities wielded over young consumers. These days successful music stars – such as Beyonce with her Ivy Park label – tend to cut out the middleman, launching their own clothing lines as soon as they have a fan base to sell to. We can't wait to watch the London Marathon this weekend!
This is an extract from Sarah E. Braddock Clark's article in the Island issue of Selvedge.