The Fabulous Sweater
Where does the sweatshirt come from?
A mainstay of any modern wardrobe, the sweatshirt’s continuous popularity crosses all generations and social backgrounds.
To get to the origins of the sweatshirt, we’ll have to venture back to 1920s Alabama, when Benjamin Russell, an owner of a women’s and children’s underwear factory was presented with a problem by his son. Bennie Russell Jr, a football player with the University of Alabama, had grown frustrated with the highly uncomfortable wool jerseys sported by the players. These were itchy, and prone to shrinking after washing.
Benjamin set about developing a comfortable alternative, using women’s underwear material as football shirts. The sweatshirt’s popularity amongst the sporting fraternity was immediate. Adopted amongst football and baseball players across the country, the sweatshirt became synonymous with American sport and comfort.
The sweatshirt’s potential as a portable advertising tool was discovered in the 1960s when U.S. universities began printing their names on the medium. For students and parents alike, university names on sweats became the preferred casual attire for exhibiting school pride.
The sweatshirt, along with the T-shirt, provided a cheap and effective way of disseminating information on a mass scale. The T-shirt slogan fad of the seventies inevitably translated to sweatshirts.
The rise of extreme sports in the 1980s, such as surfing and skateboarding, and the simultaneous establishment of hip-hop as a cultural phenomenon, reinjected a whole new level of cool into the sweatshirt.
From humble beginnings as athletic wear, the sweatshirt has achieved mass-market domination, repropelled by the birth of logomania in the 1980s. Yet, the sweatshirt’s commercial success is a direct result of its connotations of comfort, sportiness, and practicality.
The sweatshirt’s ability to transcend its athletic origins by becoming both an influential component of sportswear and an element of various subcultural dress, testifies to its importance in fashion; furthermore, the fashion system’s innate ability to recycle pre-existing motifs guarantees that the sweatshirt will evolve for years to come.