Sport Chic Featured

How active pursuits changed the shape of fashion

It was a warm summer’s day when ‘the divine one’ strolled onto the crisply cut lawns of Wimbledon. The year was 1921, imbued with the newly regained optimism of the 1920s, the first celebrity sportswoman – aka Suzanne Lenglen – was sporting an outfit that would have an immortal influence on style. The gasps were audible when Jean Patou’s shocking knee-length white silk pleated skirt, sleeveless cardigan and orange headband burst forth onto the courts of southwest London. Shock soon turned to awe as female spectators realized this was a look they wanted to adopt – and not just in the fashionable sporting arena, but in social life too. It was a seminal fashion moment.

Giorgio Armani with Team Italy 2012 in his uniforms

It was wearable. It was chic. It was a new kind of apparel, the seeds of unisex conjoining the increasingly narrow gender divide, devoid of pretence, but with all the earnest, clean, elegant and graceful aspirations of sport. Look back to the New York runways in September to see the magnificent swimwear from Michael Kors, the athletic chic of Victoria Beckham and Stella McCartney, the all-out urban from Kenzo and hooded jackets with raffia detailing and parkas by Burberry. Today in spring/summer 2012, when the Olympics land in one of the ‘Big Four’ fashion capitals for the first time in 65 years, it is clear to see the indelible influence of Jean Patou – the couturier alerted to the ennobled sphere of Twenties sporting stars by his brother-in-law and successor, the tennis player Raymond Barbas.

Adidas by Stella McCartney

Look to Lanvin’s white cotton trousers and grey kip, cotton and paper shorts this season and know that their genealogies lie in boating, tennis and rugby. The now ubiquitous men’s summer apparel swiftly seized from Britain’s lakes, rivers and greens for summer pavilions and garden parties by style-savvy Victorian gentlemen. Patrol jackets, tweed, deerstalker hats, lounge suits, ties, turn-ups and caps: all were originally conceived for sport.The styling of the Roaring Twenties is alive and evident in boutiques this season, as huge names such as Gucci and Etro pay homage to the era ahead of Director Baz Luhrmann’s 'The Great Gatsby,' premiering this Christmas.

All this reminds of a quote from British Vogue: “Sport has more to do than anything else with the evolution of the modern mode; there is only one thing of which everyone is convinced... and that is the perfection of the adaptation to the needs of the game which modern dress has evolved.” This was said in 1926 and, much like sportswear, is just as relevant today.

Related articles:

La Martina and the game of Polo

Adidas by Stella McCartney opens first shop in London

Vintage clothing trends