A brief history of the sweatshirt - from the athletics track to the beach

HÖRFA look back on the history of the sweatshirt from it's origins on the track and field to it's popularity in 90's hip-hop and surf culture.

The first crewneck sweatshirt was invented in 1920 by Benjamin Russell Jr., a football player for the University of Alabama.

Russell Jr. was tired of the itchy wool predecessors and went to his father with an idea for a cooler cotton design, which Russell Sr. turned into a reality, and ultimately gave birth to Russell Athletic Co.

The word ‘sweatshirt’ first appeared way back in 1925. The definition was a collarless, long-sleeved, oversized pullover made of thick fleecy cotton.

The earliest sweatshirts were practical items of clothing specifically designed for athletes to wear during training for traditional sports.

Sweatshirts not only provided warmth but, as their name aptly reveals, they also possessed the functional ability to induce and absorb sweat during exercise.

The design later evolved to include the zipper front, now known as the ‘hoodie’, first marketed by Champion Athletic for football players to use on the sidelines.

Sweatshirts with matching pants – ‘sweat pants’ – created an ensemble known as the jog suit, track suit, or sweat-suit, and they became widely popular in the 1970s along with the craze for jogging.

The sweatshirt’s potential as a portable advertising tool was discovered in the 1960s when U.S. universities began printing their names on the medium. For students and parents alike, university names on sweats became the preferred casual attire for exhibiting school pride.

Abercrombie & Fitch were a particular brand that later capitalised on this design to bring the university trend to mainstream success.

The t-shirt slogan craze of the seventies inevitably translated to sweatshirts, too. Recognising the relative simplicity of customisation and the power of clever graphics combined with catchphrases, sweatshirts became a vehicle for personal expression for both the designer and the wearer.

The rise of extreme sports in the 1980s, such as surfing and skateboarding, and the simultaneous establishment of hip-hop as a cultural phenomenon, reinjected a whole new level of cool into the sweatshirt.

For surfers, the sweatshirt became a practical component of beachwear. The sweatshirt provided the obvious solution to quick warmth upon exiting the ocean and facilitated drying off by absorbing excess water. As surfing gained a strong following, the sport’s popularity was harnessed by various labels, the most successful perhaps being Quicksilver in the 1990s.

As skateboarders took to the streets translating the vertical movements of surfing to flatland, they too adopted the sweatshirt, in part for its functionality – the heavy cotton was an extra layer of cushion between the skin and the injurious concrete pavement.

Another revolution brewed in the late 1970s, that time on the east coast of the United States. In the South Bronx of New York, hip-hop culture was born out of a rebellion to disco and as an alternative to gang life. Rap, Djing, breakdance, graffiti, and fashion combined to produce an artistic phenomenon that would reach across global boundaries to become a billion-dollar industry.

Early components of hip-hop fashion, now known as ‘old school’, included sweatsuits, Adidas or Puma trainers, Kangol hats, and big, gold jewelry. Colorful sweat ensembles were not only everywhere and cost effective, but they reflected the vibrancy of graffiti murals and proved functional when performing breakdance moves. As groups such as the Sugar Hill Gang, and later Run DMC, began to garner recognition, the old-school look became representative of hip-hop style.

The countless hip-hop fashion labels of the early 2000s continue to promote the legacy of the sweatsuit by maintaining it as a central focus in both their men's wear and women's wear lines.

From humble beginnings as athletic wear, the sweatshirt has achieved mass-market domination, repropelled by the birth of logomania in the 1980s. Designers wishing to cash in on branding, utilised the sweatshirt to do so.

From Vivienne Westwood's ‘Anglomania’ sailor sweatshirts to Calvin Klein’s ubiquitous ‘CK’ example, sweatshirts with designer logos became the affordable version of designer wear for the masses.

The sweatshirt’s ability to transcend its athletic origins by becoming both an influential component of sportswear and an element of various subcultural dress, testifies to its importance in fashion; furthermore, the fashion system’s innate ability to recycle pre-existing motifs guarantees that the sweatshirt will continue to evolve for years to come.

Male model Mitch Palmer wearing our stylish Cassette Sweatshirt SHOP HERE

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