The Evolution of Fitness Gear: Then & Now


Fitness clothing is often seen as something that’s pretty newfangled – and in some respects, it is. It’s only recently that wearing certain types of compression clothing has become truly popular in a commercial sense, while it’s true to say that there’s probably more choice now than there ever has been before for those who exercise.

However, what many people don’t realize is that exercise clothing as an idea has a long and distinguished history. Even those who were exercising many years ago wore some sort of rudimentary fitness gear, while the arrival of Lycra in recent decades is a clear example of how the industry began to change. Now, there’s a whole host of fitness clothing items and protective gear to choose from – so you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to shopping as a runner, player or cyclist. This article will explore some of the most popular exercise clothing choices from the last few centuries.

Centuries ago

fitness gear in 90s

Before the 20th century, workout gear looked a lot different from how it looks today. Evidence from historical books shows that women who exercised in the Victorian era and the eras around it, for example, would often wear petticoats – which is a far cry from the crop tops and compression shorts of the modern age! While this sort of gear probably encouraged at least some air flow, it won’t have been as lightweight as modern gear – meaning that the amount of exercising that women could do will have been somewhat limited.

Recent decades

Ask anyone who has been exercising a lot over the last few decades what piece of fitness clothing they associate most with the end of the 20th century, and it’s almost certain that they’ll say Lycra. Lycra was actually discovered by a scientist named Joseph Shivers, who was on the hunt for an elastic fiber that could be used to create clothing. While the economic problems of the Second World War and its immediate aftermath meant that his research project experienced a few hitches and delays along the way, he got there in the end.

It came with a whole host of benefits, including comfort and a lighter load for those who were exercising. It also entered popular consciousness not just through sport, but also through entertainment. Many people associate Lycra with singers, dancers and other types of performer, and it has contributed massively to a distinctive and recognizable aesthetic. In short, this innovative and era-defining material was perhaps the biggest sea-change in fitness material – at least until the development of present-day fitness clothing.

The present day

In the modern age, there’s more choice of fitness gear than ever before – and you’re able to choose an item that suits your exercise methods, your body’s performance, and more. Take the example of wicking technology: many modern pieces of fitness clothing are made from this sort of fabric, as it directs moisture away from your body rather than towards it and therefore helps you to manage issues such as sweating. Compression clothing, meanwhile, is another popular modern item. This type of gear is believed to affect your blood flow in a way that reduces the risk of muscle injury, so it’s handy to have around.

Something else that has changed about fitness gear, meanwhile, is the impact that technology has had on it. You can now see your potential new clothing items before you buy them at the tap of a button, rather than having to go to a store. If you follow Tommie Copper on Facebook, you’ll find all sorts of Tommie Copper products available to view, including back support products and protective socks! Other technological developments in the field of fitness clothing include wearable workout technology, which is designed to do everything from track your heart rate to monitor your weight. Whether you choose to wear a watch or even opt for a smart shirt that can monitor all of these while you wear it, you’ve certainly got a lot more options than those exercising a century ago will have had.

Fitness clothing certainly isn’t a new phenomenon, then – and it’s not something that is likely to go away any time soon, either. However, what has changed in recent years is that the range of choice has become much more extended. From petticoats to Lycra, fitness clothing has always been there – but advances in fabric customization and wearable technology mean that these days, you’ll always be able to find some fitness clothing that works for you.