Our perception of sportswear in this fashion-forward era may be conceived as a stylish tool to create a statement look. However, the journey of activewear, especially leggings was overwhelming, leaving very little space for comfort and style for women. Although sports leggings are now considered to be a must-have in every woman's wardrobe, no matter whether they are actively in a fitness regime or not, during the 1970's these very pants fuelled a heated debate which is yet to be resolved. 

We will talk more about the debate and the journey of today’s fashionable sports leggings without which women’s fashion will be lacking comfort significantly. But before diving deeper into that issue, let’s have a glance at women’s fitness outfits in the past. How did women's activewear look like a century ago? Were those pieces comfy enough for fitness training? Was there anything like a fitness regimen for women? Let's see. 


Women’s Activewear In The Past 


Surprisingly, sportswear articles in their conventional form were somewhat present for outdoor activities like bicycling, tennis, hunting and swimming, but specific clothing for indoor workouts was not  available in the market. The primary reason behind it might be the lack of fitness concerns among women, since it was a time when women used to be largely subjugated by their male counterparts. In a Vogue article published in 1923, the author felt sorry for the women while promoting that achieving a Gibson Girl-like figure is a piece of cake, for the outfits full of corsetry and padding made it a tough job to get into and hold onto comfort in it. The same article ended up suggesting women not exercise in a corset or clothes with restrictive bands. 


The illustrations found in Vogue speak a lot about women's fitness clothing during the first half of the 20th century. The Kimono-style robe (the ones you may see women wearing in classic Japanese movies), lingerie (modern-day three-quarter jumpsuits), and pyjamas were the typical outfit options for indoor exercises for women. Fitness ensembles like gym suits that were worn by female athletes and gymnasts comprised a "middy blouse" and "Bloomers Shorts" along with full-length stockings. All these pieces were made of heavy cotton and lining, giving them a fair but of weight and an extra full volume. 


The Evolution Of Women’s Activewear Since WW2 


During the initial post-war period, a remarkable shift of women was noticed towards the fitness regime due to the strong desire to achieve an hourglass figure. In 1958, a skinny tight body outfit known as a leotard was widely promoted by Better Homes and Gardens. Although it was previously in play, typically used for layering during winter. However. in the late 50's, brands like Capezio and Danskin brought it to the table as exercise suits as well as everyday leisure wear. It somehow marked the emergence of tight-fit bottoms into women's fashion and sportswear, which later was rightfully captured by sports leggings. 


The Never-Ending Tight Debate 


The body-hugging spandex pants worn by fitness enthusiasts and athletes to cover their hips were the centre of this dispute. The man who deserves our biggest thanks for inventing spandex was Joseph Shivers, and it was sold by Lycra. Embracing this fabric, from the 60s onwards, women's fashion started popularising these stretchy skinny-fit pants lovingly known as leggings. By the end of the 70s, it had earned the place of the staple bottomwear for every woman. 


The debate arose when a conservative American woman, a mother of four boys wrote a letter begging girls to turn their back on leggings as she noticed some girls attending the mass in leggings and found it painfully derogatory. It helped the dogmatic and sexist portion of society to get validation and momentum for their views. It was not a matter of surprise that a large number of people were still confined to the view that skinny-fit garments that reflect women's naturally beautiful body shape are derogatory and show a poor taste. However, as now you can see, girls turned their back on those sexist thoughts by choosing comfort and style through leggings. Anyway, the history of evolution may not always be pleasant, but it is fascinating, isn't it? 

April 12, 2024 — Hunnit hunnit2023@gmail.com