From a basic warm pullover for athletes to the world of high fashion, the ever-present sweatshirt has become one of the most popular garments for warmth and comfort for both men and women. It is also a garment with cultural significance and an advertising medium.
The sweatshirt made its appearance as a recognized word in the dictionary around 1925 when the long sleeve, collarless pullover became popular with athletes. This utilitarian garment, originally made from heavy, fleecy cotton, provided warmth while it absorbed perspiration. It was used primarily by male athletes while training for sports.
The original sweatshirt did not have pockets or the piece of material now sewn to the lower front of the garment to keep hands warm. The zipper front “hoodie” was introduced by Champion Athletic wear in the 1930s for sports teams to wear while they were on the sidelines during cold weather. Football team players and people in the stands used this comfortable sweatshirt for warmth, and they could even cover their heads with the hood that was adjusted with a pull string. Pockets were added to the hooded sweatshirts that also featured the team colors and logos.
The popularity of the sweatshirt, with either the tradition crew neck or a zipper and hood, spread rapidly. A pullover with a short zipper and a collar was also made from sweatshirt material. The sweatshirt became outerwear worn over t-shirts, collared shirts, and other tops with short or long sleeves.
Loose-fitting sweatpants were made from the same material, often with pockets and an adjustable elastic waist along with elastic at the ankles. The pants may also have the ribbed knit found at the wrist of most sweatshirts at the ankles. They matched the sweatshirts to form sweatsuits. The ribbed knitted material around the wrists of sweatshirts offers a tight and warm fit.
The sweatsuit remains popular with joggers, runners, and other athletes. Sweatshirts and pants are made for both men and women. This style, also known as a tracksuit, was later designed in other fabrics with added colorful details, logos, and trims.
An Advertising Medium
College, universities, and even high schools began to add their names and logos to sweatshirts in the 1950s and 60s. They were sold to students and alumni who still wear them with pride.
If educational institutions and sports teams can advertise, anyone can! Businesses began handing out sweatshirts to employees with the company name and logo emblazoned on the back or front of the shirts. Catch-phrases and slogans were added to the sweatshirts.
The manufacturer’s logo also appears on many sweatshirts and pants. The Nike “swoosh” is probably the most recognized logo, but Adidas, Puma, and other sportswear companies make sure everyone knows their name on sweatshirts and other athletic wear.
Colorful sweatsuits with hoodies became the uniform of the Hip-Hop movement that started in the South Bronx in the 1970s. The loose-fitting garments offered freedom of movement for street dancers who added trainers, hats and gold jewelry to the costume.
Skateboarders adopted sweatshirts and pants for warmth, as well as for protection if they landed on the pavement. Surfers used sweatshirts for warmth after leaving the ocean. Sylvester Stallone added to the popularity of the hooded sweatshirt in his iconic movie Rocky in 1976.
Clothing designers recognized the popularity of the loose-fitting and warm sweatshirts, so they began to modify the clothing for people who wanted a little more style. Norma Kamali designed an entire collection for women using sweatshirt material in the 1980s. Dolce and Gabbana created a hooded sweatshirt with a message that said “l’Hip-Hop C’est Chic,” while Michael Kors added a fur vest over the sweatshirt!
The sweatshirt continues to be popular throughout the world where men and women need warm garments. The styles include a pullover with a hood and pockets, the zipper hoodie, collared versions, and the classic crewneck. The fabrics range from lighter weight cotton knits to heavy cotton and blends with soft fleece linings. Sweatshirts and pants come in all sizes and colors to fit people of any size. It is the ultimate warm and comfortable garment that will always be with us.