The Evolution of Sports Uniforms


If you have ever seen photographs or even footage of athletes from decades past, it may come as no surprise that sports uniforms have evolved quite a bit over time. The sports uniform as we know it today has changed drastically in the last century alone, not only in the materials used but also in the advancement of technology. In this article, we take a closer look at the evolution of sports uniforms in order to see just how much athletic apparel has changed for the typical athlete and the industry as a whole.

The Evolution of Sports Uniforms

People have been running, jumping, and reaching since we first learned how to use our feet and hands. Since the dawn of humankind, we have used our bodies to the benefit of hunting food and escaping dangers, but organized sports have given us a whole new reason to appreciate the history of athletics. The sports uniform, for example, is one small facet of the long and celebrated evolution of athleticism that is often overlooked.

Since 776 BCE, when the first Olympic games were established, athletes of all kinds have found inventive ways to differentiate themselves. None of the original Olympic athletes wore foot protection, but some even took go competing in the nude. One such athlete, Orsippos, was the first reported athlete to run completely naked. As the story goes, Orsippos began the race wearing traditional athletic garments of the time, most likely a loincloth secured to his waist by a band of fabric. Although the loincloth he was wearing fell off, Orsippos still won the race and the Greeks started a new tradition. Nudity in the Olympic games was also meant to differentiate the ancient Greeks from neighboring civilizations and societies they considered barbaric because they believed that nakedness was shameful.

Although the Olympic Games ceased as of 393 AD and it would take over 1500 years for the competition to return, early forms of other sports were on the horizon. Ancient soccer was originally known as "Tsu Chu" and utilized to train Chinese soldiers as part of their physical education program in the third century BCE, so it is possible that the earliest soccer players wore some sort of armor or military uniform to play.

American football uniforms have also come a long way since the late 1800s. Function and safety features were not priorities of early football leagues and football uniforms were essentially nonexistent. Some teams would collaborate by wearing similar colors. As football uniforms progressed, they were usually made of heavy materials, such as canvas or wool, for added durability and protection. Players who lived in the northeast even wore fur coats as they sat on the sidelines, possibly inspiring the wave of warm-up apparel we know today. Gymnastics of the 19th century were also a source of innovation in uniforms. The first gymnasts wore uniforms made of gray linen, but they quickly switched to cotton shirts for greater freedom of movement.

The Olympic Games were reintroduced in 1896, but it wasn't until 1908 that uniform regulations were provided to all participants. According to those regulations, every competitor had to wear a sleeved jersey and loose drawers to the knees as well as a number to correspond to his place in the program. Until WWII, the majority of sports jerseys were made of either cotton or wool jersey. From the 1930s to the 1960s, the textile industry was revolutionized by the advent of synthetic fibers, such as nylon, polyester, and elastane.

By the mid-1900s, sports uniforms became a little more conducive to athletic activity. Uniforms of the 50s were made from light, synthetic fabrics that were known for their tear resistance and elasticity. By the 1960s, some athletic uniforms really began to resemble the athletic apparel we are used to seeing and wearing today.

As sports fashion continues to evolve, you can expect to see plenty of change in your time as an athlete. In the meantime, it is important to keep up to date with the latest in sports uniforms. Dynamic Team Sports proudly provides custom sports uniforms for an array of athletic activities. You can even use our custom uniform builder online to design a unique look for your team. If you have any questions about the evolution of sports uniforms or would like to learn more about creating custom uniforms for your sports program, please feel free to contact us for additional information.