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  • Shems Ghali

More than a fashion choice...the real human meaning of a tracksuit

Photo by Monstera from Pexels

Over the last (almost) 2 years, with most of our time being spent moving from our bedroom to the kitchen then to the living room and repeat, the clothing item of choice has been the tracksuit. It’s comfy, easy to chuck on and doesn’t need much thought.

Coming out the other side of lockdown, we left our houses and so did the joggers and sweatshirts. Hitting the catwalks to hitting the highstreets, the tracksuit has become a versatile piece you can dress up or down depending on your preference… I’m yet to match mine with a pair of high heels… (but that doesn’t mean I haven’t considered it).

Fashion has always been an outlet for expression, a way to show our individuality, portraying an image we want the world to see. Originally a tracksuit was a tool to show a sporty side but with the power of media, news and culture its image has evolved and adapted over the last 60 years. It’s had high and lows and I’m intrigued to see what the future has instore for this (currently) staple piece.

To understand its human and cultural relevance I took a dive into what gives it its universal appeal.

First on the scene (1960’s) was the tracksuit for the sporty man, the well-known athletes. The style and ease of wear grabbed attention and ten years later it began to trickle into the wardrobes of the general public and onto the big screens.

We can probably all remember Bruce Lee’s iconic, bright yellow tracksuit with the Adidas stripes. Power and influence of the media didn’t go a miss and the tracksuit has been referenced throughout popular culture since… even landing on Uma Therman in Kill Bill. The film world was the catalyst for moving this two piece away from sports to a more universal space and was picked up off the shelf in the American Hip-Hop scene.

Self-directed rappers took this item and made it their own. It felt like a cultural signifier for artists linked to this genre from LL Cool J to east coasts Snoop… and with Adidas leading the tracksuit scene after Bruce Lee’s fit, Run-DMC even wrote a song called ‘My Adidas’. And so the tracksuit was claimed by the music industry.

Although we were slow to the party (or fashionably late shall we say) the UK began to embrace this iconic item within the working class when adorned by Oasis, Blur and the Stone Roses back in the 90’s. Chosen as a versatile piece of comfort it was used as a tool for self-expression of where they’ve come from.

There are many moments over this time period where the tracksuit was used as this cultural signifier in British media. Characters such as Vicky Pollard from Little Britain used it as a way to add comedic effect as did Ali G but like others, this image didn’t last.

With celebrities come the paparazzi, and suddenly front pages of magazines were plastered in images of these prestigious people freely advertising the tracksuit. A surge in demand for this piece caught the eye of high end designer and from this was born the more exciting and indulgent tracksuit from the likes of Gucci, Stone Island, Burberry or the classic soft velour suit from Juicy Couture. People were now living hedonistically, splashing the cash on a new suit and why shouldn’t they!

Since then there have been many changes like Grime reclaiming this item and what it stands for or the funky 90’s shell suits for creative expression, but currently as it stands it’s an item that signifies the last 2 years – a fashion time capsule of COVID and what was worn across most of the globe. It feels a lot more acceptable now to go out for dinner in this casual wear than it ever has before and I’m here for it.

As I’m writing this (wearing my own velour tracksuit) I’m reminded of Devil Wears Prada, Miranda Priestly, and the blue sweater moment…a tracksuit is so much more than just a tracksuit and I’m excited to see which hanger it lands on next and the unveiling of the human story it’s going to tell.


Senior Research Executive

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