Women wore what?!

I would like to thank my good friend Jennifer Fabulous of I know, right? for contributing this wonderful post!

Love Zumba?

Imagine doing it in a corset! You might as well wear a straight jacket.

When physical exercise first became popular in the 1800s, however, women didn’t have a choice.

While calisthenics performed to music (an early form of aerobics) and other fitness programs were introduced during this time period, they weren’t very popular in the US. People were more interested in getting physical exercise via competitive sports.

But in the Victorian era, it was not socially acceptable for women to participate in competitive sports, so clothes were not designed to allow women to excel.

For example, women who played golf were forced to wear high-necked, long-sleeved blouses, bowler hats, full-length skirts, and button shoes. Unlike men’s golf clothes which boasted performance enhancements, the women’s attire was dreadfully uncomfortable and not user-friendly to the sport at all.

By 1910, however, golf allowed women to have expanding pleats down the sides of their tweed jackets to prevent clothes tearing when they did a golf swing. In 1917, the fashion magazine Vogue was urging women to nix their overskirts when mountain-climbing and ski in their horseback riding trousers.

The same restrictive clothing from the Victorian era also applied to female tennis players.

But in 1922 Suzanne Lenglen, one of the world’s first female sports stars, created a media frenzy when she dressed for tennis at Wimbledon wearing a short skirt and no hat. Her boldness shocked the world.

Because of her bravery, in 1930 a bare head was deemed acceptable for tennis playing.

In 1932, American tennis legend Alice Marble stunned the world even more by strutting onto court white shorts.

Both women greatly influenced the change of women’s sportswear forever.

By the 1930s, pants were slowly becoming acceptable everyday wear for women, particularly in the US.

By the end of the decade, women were participating in numerous competitive sports, such as golf, running, tennis, skiing, golf, and archery. With this change, sportswear adapted as well. Short dresses were acceptable for tennis. Slacks and light jackets were acceptable for golf.

After World War II, the invention of nylon, the first man made fiber, was introduced to the world. It prove revolutionary for sportswear, as it allowed for stretchability. For example, nylon running shorts were invented and elastic waists were added to pants.

By the 1970s, fitness wear was quickly making its mark on mainstream fashion. Huge advances in breathable fabrics were made. Color was incorporated into sports attire. Thermal underwear became a staple. The track suit was invented. By this time, exercise had become a regular part of people’s lives. They were jogging, pumping iron, and working out at gyms.

The momentum led to the explosion of the fitness craze of the 1980s. Aerobics classes, such as Jazzercise, took over the decade.

This decade also saw the leg warmers obsession amongst teenage girls and young women. Leg warmers were originally worn by dancers to keep muscles from cramping after stretching. However, films like Flashdance and Fame made them a fashion statement.

Leg warmers weren’t the only gym clothes to become a fashion staple in the 1980s. Brightly colored shell suits were all the rage with women. They not only wore them to dance class, but also to pick up their kids from school and run errands. The trend was so overwhelming, companies began producing more and more hideous looking ones. Fortunately, the shell suit phase died by the 1990s.

Today, the athletic and fitness clothing business is a billion dollar industry. Work out clothes are made by familiar brands such as Nike, Reebok, and Adidas. Plus, popular high-end brands, such as Juicy Couture and Victoria’s Secret, also make work-out wear, such as track suits and yoga pants, fashionable for teenage girls and soccer moms. Sports bras are also a must-have for most women.

It’s strange to think we’ve come such a long way in a little over a century, isn’t it?

I just want to thank Julie for suggesting I do a guest post for her on such an interesting topic. I’ve been a fan of her awesome blog since the beginning. And I’ve been a fan of Julie since we were in high school together! 🙂

Thanks for reading!

20 thoughts on “Women wore what?!

  1. This is an awesome post! I learned so much.

    @ E – I'm surprised about exercising in the nude… I think certain body parts would be in great pain during vigorous exercise, haha!

    ♥ Leia

  2. Such an awesome post.

    I adore legwarmers. And currently the 90's are back in fashion among the teenage crowd in Texas.

    Re: Nude Greeks – they understood the concept of 'breathable fabric' -skin!

  3. I LOVE THIS TOPIC. It combines my favorite things — working out and fashion.
    I can't imagine weightlifting, doing yoga, or doing Zumba in a corset.
    I think I would die.
    And I can't imagine life without my Nike sports bras and workout apparel.
    Ughghghghgghghgh. NIGHTMARES.

    Twitter: @GlamKitten88

  4. OMG! the eighties stuff brought back some memories! I studied historical costume and dress and remembering first finding out about what women had to wear in olden times such as the Victorian period, how did they survive was my first thought. great post as usual Jennifer. Have a great weekend XOXO

  5. What an interesting post! I can hardly imagine playing tennis in a long skirt and hat. I would be worrying more about my hat falling off than anything else! It was so brave of these women to first make the big move and step out in more wearable sports clothing, and I'm glad they did, because it gained more respect for the female sex and more wearability!

  6. Gah I remember the fabrics they made leotards and stuff out of when I was a kid. Way better than a corset, but I praise every advancement in textiles made since all the same!

  7. Great post Jennifer! I sure take for granted being able to wear my yoga pants and gym shorts and run outside in a sports bra if I want.

  8. awesome post! very informative. Just imagine wearing all those clothes while doing sports, so uncomfortable. Clothes empower women for whatever they do. Thanks to all those braves who freed us from too much clothes 🙂

  9. Thanks for sharing this infomation and changes of sports, use of sports dresses century to century from 1800. Sportswear is very necessary for sports person

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