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The Tribute

A Brief History Of The Tracksuit

The sportswear staple, from its origins in 1960s athletics through 1980s organised crime to modern-day designer favourite

The sweatshirt began life as a football jersey. Sneakers as we know them today are an evolution of early basketball and tennis shoes. The polo shirt was designed by Mr René Lacoste to be worn not on the polo field, but on the tennis court. So much of the modern man’s wardrobe finds its origins in the world of sport, and the tracksuit – unsurprisingly, given the name – is no exception. But how did this zippered nylon jacket and matching trousers make the leap from track to street, and who were the style setters from music, film and TV who helped it along?

In this exclusive short, Mr David Kamp provides us with a potted history of the tracksuit, whose famous fans over the decades have included such world-beaters – in their own fields – as Run-DMC and Mr Fidel Castro.

1968
The name “tracksuit” arose because, quite literally, it was a suit designed to be worn on the track. Obvious, right? Back then it was the sole preserve of athletes such as American sprinters Messrs John Carlos and Tommie Smith.

1971
It wasn’t long before the tracksuit was vaulted into popular culture, and TV provided the springboard. Mr Bruce Lee sported a red number in the cult drama Longstreet, a prelude to the famous yellow one he wore in the 1978 film Game Of Death.

1979
By the end of the decade, the jogging boom was in full swing. No longer was the tracksuit something to be casually sloughed off by an Olympian seconds before the big race. Now, even recreational athletes had a reason to own one, too.

1988
In the mid-1980s, the influential fashion stylings of Messrs Jam Master Jay, Darryl McDaniels and Joseph Simmons – aka Run-DMC – instigated a reinterpretation of tracksuits from athletic apparel to prestige streetwear.

1995
It was around this time that the tracksuit was adopted by a more nefarious demographic: organised crime. This loose-fitting, elastic-waisted sporting gear proved seemingly irresistible to soft-bellied mobsters such as Mr John Angelo “Junior” Gotti.

1996
The wild popularity of the 1980s hip-hop look brought the tracksuit – also the garment of choice for breakdancers – to the masses. Soon enough, it was being sported by everyone from The Beastie Boys and Oasis to Blur’s Mr Damon Albarn.

2001
In a sure sign that the tracksuit was approaching the point of parody, it was chosen as the outfit for Mr Ben Stiller’s angst-ridden, overprotective dad, Chas Tenenbaum, and his two sons in Mr Wes Anderson’s 2001 film The Royal Tenenbaums.

2016
The tracksuit has emerged from the wilderness and is once again hitting its stride. As the worlds of sportswear and fashion collide, designers such as Gucci’s Mr Alessandro Michele are reimagining this athletic classic to impressive effect for AW16.

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