Having been in the biz for over two decades, I have seen many fitness fashions come and go and often come back again and I don’t mean exercises or training systems but actual gym wear. Needless to say that gym wear fashion often mirrors high street fashion and those of us who remember the 70s and 80s may remember things like day-glo Lycra, leg warmers and other such things with anything but fondness. “Did I really wear that?” seems to be a common question whenever I discuss gym wear fashion with my similarly-aged peers. Sadly, the answer is yes, we did!
I was part of an athletic training squad in the early 80’s, a period that coincided with the rise of the “Fame” look. The kids from Fame were the coolest of the cool and once a week they strutted their stuff on TV wearing such items as string vests, nylon track pants and of course the ubiquitous leg warmers. Needless to say, so did we. In retrospect, I think that we carried the look quite well but I do remember that leg warmers are not the ideal lower body wear for training in the pouring rain when all that happens is they soak up gallons of water and make running, let a long sprinting, all but impossible. Saying that, I suppose they did provide a good form of overload...
The first gym I ever worked at had an unusual staff uniform – huge baggy “MC Hammer” pants in an alluring sky blue and printed with a surfer motif. These pants were so baggy that it was possible to put your hands in your pockets and clap your hands in front of you and then behind you and were paired with a three-quarter sleeve slash neck bodybuilder-style sweatshirt. A great look if you are a 250 pound monster of muscle; a terrible look if you weigh more like 140 pounds and have yet to fill out to match your above average height! Our uniforms were commonly referred to as our clown suits although when we all paraded off for lunch we cut an impressive swathe through the streets of Bristol!
A few years later, I was spending more time teaching aerobics classes than in the gym and, subsequently, as gym wear fashion and my job had changed, so did my outfit. Gone were the baggy bodybuilder pants only to be replaced by unitards – as made (in)famous by TV’s fitness superstar Mr. Motivator. I steered away from accessories like the bum bag and baseball hat combo but did make sure the laces in my aerobics high tops always matched my unitard and my baggy-topped flop socks were as bright as the rest of my garb. I was once even asked to model some of these multicoloured monstrosities for a local West Country newspaper and I remember being particularly pleased to hear that I would be allowed to keep a couple of the outfits. Thankfully, no pictures exist of this unfortunate fashion period but it can be summed up in just a few words – Lycra ruled!
Female gym wear fashion was somewhat different in those days too. Lycra was still the material of choice but more often involved the wearing of a brightly coloured thong outside your shorts or leggings and a matching support bra or crop top. On many, this was a very good look but also a severe health and safety risk! I remember visiting a friend in hospital after he had suffered a head injury while doing aptly named skull crushers at the gym. I asked him what had happened and he explained that his spotter was so distracted by a thong-wearing lady exercising in his vicinity that he failed to notice my friend was unable to finish his reps and subsequently did not step in when the weight descended rapidly into his forehead! I’m sure this was not an isolated incident...
Nowadays, I am much more conservative with my gym wear but probably more exacting. I have shoes for squatting, different shoes for deadlifting and yet more shoes for running. I also have a pair of compression pants specifically designed for lower body workouts and neoprene sleeves I wear to keep my knees warm. My shorts are roomy, modest and medium length and my T-shirts are designed to keep me cool and dry whatever I am doing. My colours of choice are black, grey and dark blue. It seems that, for me at least, gym wear has reached its zenith and I for one am quite happy about that. On the down side, for powerlifting competitions I have to re-embrace the Lycra look and don a one-piece lifting suit – Bring on the 80s flashbacks...
Still, all this talk of gym wear fashion does illustrate that the fitness industry has come a very long way in the last 30 years or so, partly due to technological advancement and partly because of fashion. I for one am looking forward to seeing the developments over the next 30 years; so long as Lycra and neon doesn’t make a comeback!
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