One Memorable Look: Mr Bob Marley’s Natty Navy Tracksuit

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One Memorable Look: Mr Bob Marley’s Natty Navy Tracksuit

Words by Mr Elliot Hoste

15 October 2021

There was nothing particularly remarkable about 42 Oakley Street in southwest London. From the outside, it was just like any other Chelsea townhouse – both grand and unassuming, in that uniquely British way. But for a brief period in the late 1970s, this smart Georgian property was home to Mr Bob Marley.

Along with his band The Wailers, Marley had returned to London in 1977, where they wrote and recorded material that became the album Exodus. Music was his first love, but football came a close second and some mornings the band would make the short journey south of the river across the Albert Bridge to the muddy expanse of Battersea Park for a kickabout.

Rather than let grey skies deter him, Marley observed the unpredictable British weather and remained unmoved. “If you didn’t exercise in England when it rains,” he once quipped, “then you wouldn’t get much exercise at all.”

Here, with his locs furled into a burgundy and cream beanie cap and his trousers hastily tucked into his socks, Marley exudes a carefree attitude that belies the real reason he’d come to London. These images of him playing football in the park, mere months after the assassination attempt that forced him and his family to flee Jamaica, were really ones of quiet defiance.

Dressing for a spring morning in Battersea called for more layers than the singer would have typically been accustomed to in the Caribbean. On this occasion, he paired a striped woolly sweater with a slim-fitted navy tracksuit, a look that was quintessential Marley in London and eventually became his signature style.

The origins of this apparently personalised piece aren’t clear, but most signs point to adidas, to which Marley was known to have an allegiance (some say because it sounds like Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia and the birthplace of Rastafarianism). As well as its classic three-striped tracksuits, Marley was regularly photographed wearing bright yellow adidas T-shirts, thigh-grazing shorts and a rotating selection of its sneakers (here he’s seen in his trusty adidas Copa Mundials).

Mr Gary Aspden, the chief curator of adidas’ 2017 Spezial collection, which referenced Marley’s navy tracksuits, recognises the reggae icon as one of the first people “to adopt head-to-toe sportswear as a look off the field” before rappers started to follow suit in the next decade.

Most recently, the influence of this outfit can be seen in the clothes of British-Jamaican designer Ms Grace Wales Bonner. Last year, she debuted her Lovers Rock collection and accompanying adidas collaboration, which was largely inspired by Marley and featured contemporary, subtly elevated takes on his 1970s tracksuits.

Of Marley’s style, Wales Bonner says she was attracted to “how he manages to wear sportswear in a very elegant way”, and this elegance is expertly reapportioned throughout the collection. Rollneck knits and tailored pieces sit alongside navy, slimline tracksuit bottoms, three-stripe track tops in Dancehall Pink and red, gold and green beanies.

Marley embodies the ease and effortlessness that’s made the tracksuit an enduring off-duty staple, but there’s a sense of foreboding to these images, too. It was at another football match that same year, in Paris, where the singer sustained the injury that led to the discovery of his cancer, the disease that killed him at the age of 36.

Looking back, Marley in his navy tracksuit and beanie cap was a picture of joy, youth, health and freedom, playing the sport he lived for in the city he called his “spiritual home”.

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