Gym Wear: The late 20th Century

We have already covered gym wear in the early 20th century, so today’s post is about gym wear starting in the 1960s. As a recap, sports/gym wear used to be for very few people in the 1860s-1900s. It was mainly for boxers or gymnasts. However, today we see gym wear becoming the everyday outfit for men and women alike. From full length dresses to yoga pants and sweatshirts, the everyday streetwear has changed quite drastically in the last century.

The 1960s and 1970s were a time of progression for the gym wear and sports fashion industry. This was the time in history that introduced us to the practice of yoga and jogging. In 1970 we began to see the rise of the track suit before it entered the bright/multicolored trend of the 1980s. However, by the end of the 1970s, the merging of street wear and gym wear began. Exercise had become a part of many people’s lives. The idea of a regular exercise routine became the mainstream thing to do. As the number of people attending regular workout/dance classes grew, the demand for sports clothes/gym wear increased as well.

As the 1980s began, synthetic materials were being used more often as a way to make comfortable, yet fashionable workout gear. The synthetic materials would be died various colors, especially bright colors, that the 1980s were famous for. As a demand for comfort increased, the 1980s released the newest trend. It was the “shell suit”. Basically, the shell suit was made of nylon. It was a combination of a lightweight zippered top, which came in with elastic at the waistline, and loose matching pants cuffed at the bottom.

The shell suit became popular among all age groups. At first, however, if was just for the people who actually participated in sports. However, it soon became very affordable and cheap for almost anyone to have one. This is another example of the everyday streetwear merging with the sports world. However, as it became overly mainstream for all age groups, the fashion industry began to create tighter clothing for gym-goers. Many people wanted to be able to show off their body as weightlifting and intense exercise became popular in the 1990s.

c. 1985. Black and white sweat pant suit with shoulder pads. By Norma Kalami

The 1980s were dominated by everything “big”. From big hair to bold colors to big shoulders, the 80’s were perhaps one of the most recognizable decades in the fashion industry. One of the top designers at the time, Norma Kamali, was inspired by the retro looks of the past. She brought back the shoulder pad trend. This was known as a “power suit” and was a symbol for more women entering the workforce. Kamali was inspired by many different events in her life. After graduating from the Fashion Institute of technology in the 1960s, many of her ideas were turned away from the Seventh Avenue company. After leaving her job, she traveled to Europe in search of their fashion trends. She returned to the United States only to open up her own boutique in 1968. She grew popularity and even taught herself how to make clothing.

After she was divorced in 1977 from her husband, Eddie, she once again came out with the “sleeping bag coat” inspired by the sleeping bag she slept in after her divorce. Also in the late 70’s, she had the idea of highwaisted bathing suits that were so popular in the 80’s as well as many revealing bikini’s. Eventually, Kamali introduced an entire collection made with sweat pant material. She influenced an entire decade when oversized sweatshirts and  yoga pants were a trend. Today, Kamali is accredited with being one of the most original designers to date as we still continue to see her fashion influence everywhere.

c. 2006 gym wear

As gym fashioned from the 1980s to the 1990s, the materials used

c. 1990-1999

transitioned, too. The once popular brightly-died synthetics of the 80’s were traded for aerodynamic Lycra, which was used in cycling shorts.

Today’s gym wear is much of “athleisure”.You are able to wear it to the gym, or you may see it everywhere on the street. Most common are leggings, sweatpants, and sweatshirts.

an example off modern “Athleisure” 2015














Whitley, Lauren. “Norma Kamali”.  lovetoknow. Accessed on November 14, 2018. Retrieved from

Weston, Pauline. “Fitness Fashion History After the 1960s” fashionera. Accessed on November 14, 2018. Retrieved from






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