For years, the rules of fashion separating haute couture from regular wear and luxury apparel to pedestrian clothing were firmly set. Rules used to exist for even the smallest details, including the old, now rarely followed, decree that an individual shouldn’t wear white after labor day. Now, the lines aren’t as definite, which is a massive boon for sports-fascinated designers everywhere.
Below, we’re going to explain what makes luxury sportswear and how it came to exist in the first place.
Athleisure and Sportswear
It is essential, before going into the history of sportswear, that we briefly touch on athleisure, which grew up in tandem with sportswear. Athleisure and sportswear are not in the same category of fashion.
Historically speaking, athleisure wear has imitated the athletic quality of sportswear while being more geared towards fashion and comfort than practical athletic performance. However, when discussing the evolution to, and especially the introduction of sportswear into mainstream fashion, it is important to understand that the two are deeply linked.
Fundamentally, sportswear is athletic gear and also extends to helmets and other forms of equipment that would pretty much never be used in daily fashion. Athleisure apparel takes cues from sportswear in terms of design.
However, this apparel may eschew performance fabrics for more stylish ones and generally serves to aid in general athleticism rather than conferring any sport-specific benefits. With sportswear becoming more fashionable and athleisure wear becoming more performance-based, the line between the two is becoming increasingly blurred.
Origins of Sportswear
In order to analyze the modern state of luxury sportswear, it’s important to understand where sportswear originated. Historically speaking, sportswear has existed for as long as sports have, with specialized gear for athletics appearing at various points in each game's history.
During this time, athletic apparel only belonged on the field, with wearing it elsewhere being a faux pas. Starting in the 20th century, however, a demand for practical fashions led to the evolution of sportswear being integrated into daily attire.
Sportswear as fashion appeared in both Europe and America around the same time, but the way in which it was introduced varied. This was partially due to the fact that the continents were a world away.
On a slightly more practical note, multiple wars, as well as the Great Depression occurring in the early decades of the century, encouraged artists to focus their attention on the home front. Design aesthetics were more internally focused rather than what was going on culturally on an international level.
Sportswear in Europe
The women’s suffrage movement in Europe saw a greater number of women entering the workforce in a professional capacity. This necessitated clothing that was formal yet practical. Up until that time, much of women’s clothing was bulky, as in the case of many dresses, or impractical, as in the case of corsets.
The time was right for a designer to upend traditional ideas of women’s fashion up until that point was, and the designer who designed to take up the challenge was Coco Chanel. While she did not put out sportswear, rather putting out something resembling 1920s athleisure apparel, Chanel took many of the design cues in her line from contemporary men’s sportswear.
From the regular uniforms of sailors, she designed bell-bottomed trousers; from athletes, she designed jersey separates, and from traditional shooting apparel, she created the now-iconic two-piece tweed suit. While much of this wouldn’t be recognized as sportswear as we see it today, it provided an essential bridge between formal designs and modern-day acceptance and appreciation of athletic apparel.
Chanel would one day embrace sportswear as it has evolved, as well. In the 90s, Chanel would put out anoraks, vests, messenger bags, and even logo-emblazoned tennis balls to appeal to an increased desire for luxury sportswear.
Sportswear in America
While Coco Chanel brought sportswear to haute couture in Europe, the origins of American sportswear are significantly more humble. Chanel was a fashion house, largely putting out unique custom designs alongside some ready-to-wear materials.
In the U.S, the founder of American sportswear intentionally made her designs to be produced widely, easily interchanged, and be available to the common person.
In the 1930s, Claire McCardell sought to create highly practical sportswear in a bid to move away from the elite practices of European fashion houses. She used materials that were readily available in the country, such as cotton, denim, and wool, to create simple, comfortable designs.
Her idea was to introduce a whole line of clothing made to match with like items, allowing wearers to build a wide number of outfits from a small number of separate pieces. In the 1940s, she introduced a series of five clothing items that could be combined to make nine different outfits.
Her outfits featured tighter silhouettes than were previously commonplace. Her dresses often featured large belts to be cinched about the waist, rather than rely on the body being contoured by shapewear undergarments. Later in her career, her garments included trousers for women, as well.
It seems a small step to introduce sportswear as fashion, especially given how commonplace it is now. However, what occurred on these continents in the early 20th century was remarkable. This fashion showcases a changing role in how people viewed themselves and their fashions alike.
Sportswear: From the Field to the Street
Though women were beginning to wear sportswear-inspired clothing at this time, men’s sportswear was still in the process of being seen as acceptable as daily wear.
At this point in time, shorts were only worn by young boys as daily wear or by men as athletic wear. Student protests in the 1930s and the slow normalization of women’s pants in the 1950s led to an eventual and subtle relaxation of style.
Casual clothing, far from being simply comfortable and in style, also had class connotations. Formal wear, in terms of the quality of the material and how well-worn the garment was, invariably betrayed how wealthy someone was.
Rather than trying hard to dress up, the nature of casual wear as something few luxury designers were making allowed all sorts of people to dress how they would like without fear of judgment.
In the 1960s, men’s and women’s sportswear fashions merged to create unisex looks, a trend that has continued to this day. Over the next few decades in the world of formal wear, power suits began to appear.
Major designers began putting out oversized jackets and plentiful denim offerings. Hip-hop fashion and streetwear fashions, both movements which trace their history back to American sportswear, became popular.
In 2021, sportswear and its associated descendants such as streetwear dominate the market, with independent fashion designers and storied fashion houses alike taking note. Apparel, luxurious or not, became desired for its exclusivity, caused by small batch sizes rather than sky-high costs.
With the market full of highly prized gear produced by everyone from indie designers to large-scale fashion houses, it begs the question: What is luxury sportswear?
What Is Luxury Sportswear?
Luxury sportswear, on a basic level, is sportswear whose aesthetic and performance components have both been held to a high standard. It’s high fashion, but it’s also quality gear for any athlete.
While most other fashion trends come and go in a way that may seem arbitrary, because sportswear always requires an athletic component that never becomes impractical, it tends to have higher staying power than other items.
Each designer has their own idiosyncrasies when it comes to special choices they make and where they get their inspiration from.
That being said, pretty much all luxury sportswear has some of the following in common:
Quality: When you’re designing for the heights of function and fashion, quality matters. At this level, it’s easy to find luxe materials for comfort and high-performance fabric blends to keep you going your strongest.
It’s also increasingly likely you’ll find special design elements like zip pockets, adjustable cords or zippers on the ankle or other connection points, or other aesthetic components designers use as their calling card.
- Collaboration: Sportswear originated as an accessible fashion option, and collaboration between luxury designers and major athletic brands such as seen in the DP Adidas Basketball Collection allows high-quality designs to be produced at a more affordable rate than would otherwise be possible.
Personality: Brands have energy and pedigree, which reflects both the character of the designer and the character of the fashion line. Oftentimes, designers will take key inspiration from the world around them:
Claire McCardell, as mentioned before, was heavily inspired by the culture and resources available to her in the U.S. By investing in a designer's work, you are involving yourself in a cultural conversation whose environment spans the whole history of a brand's experiences.
Designer Highlight: Daniel Patrick
To highlight one example of how luxury sportswear is informed by culture, we’d like to explain a little bit about how Daniel Patrick came to be involved in sportswear.
Our founder started out in Australia, far from the heart of modern sportswear, with two core interests: Fashion and athletics. One day he figured there was no better way to achieve his dreams than to reach out and go for them, so he moved to America with a 90-day time limit, and he made it happen.
As a brand, Daniel Patrick is deeply inspired by the fashion associated with vintage and contemporary sportswear. The brand is also focused on the culture of excitement and forward-thinking momentum that’s grown up around streetwear. Many of our designs take inspiration from our home base of Los Angeles, and almost everything we do is produced locally with individual attention given to each garment.
As far as collaborations, we have been lucky enough to work with such incredible individuals as James Harden and wonderful sportswear companies like Adidas to bring our own sense of style to the mainstream.
Many of our individual products take established design trends and flip them on their head to create the next evolution in everything that’s come before. For example, the Daniel Patrick Basics Collection uses wardrobe staples as our starting point, then upgrades them as befitting high-end sportswear.
Luxe loop terry, a heavyweight jersey that’s appropriate indoors or in mild weather, and multi-fabric blends deliberately designed to maximize comfort and performance all appear in the collection as the materials powering ambitious takes on classic designs.
At our core, Daniel Patrick adores taking inspiration from the biggest classics to present something worthwhile for the present and for years to come.
As a whole, sportswear is a fashion style that was designed from the ground up to be for the people, by the people, a mantra that designers like us take to heart. Understand that what makes sportswear luxury isn’t that the pieces come from a historic fashion house older than most living people.
Instead, this luxury spirit comes from designers with a passion for the craft, a deep drive to excel, and an overarching dedication towards the future of fashion.