The Evolution of Running Clothes


There no doubt about it; running has evolved since it first boomed in the 1970s. It’s gone from a fringe hobby for those who weren’t cut out for other – more popular – sports to a nationally recognized and loved sport – not to mention a multi-billion dollar industry. Just about every aspect of the sport has change in the past half century, but perhaps the most entertaining is the clothes.

To be fair, running’s mainstream popularity began booming in the 1970s, so it had the disadvantage of some pretty bad clothes to pick from. Plus, as such a new sport with the public, a uniform of sorts had not been created. There weren’t stored filled with various running gear that a beginner could drop in and get a few workout outfits from. Runners pretty much wore anything and everything.

Most pictures of early road runners show men with shaggy hair, a cotton tank top or t-shirt, and teeny tiny cotton shorts with different colored piping along the edges. You may also note the nifty knee-high striped basketball socks. The only part of their outfit that really makes sense, knowing what we know now, is that they were wearing actual running shoes. Of course, shoes have changed a great deal over the years as well, but that’s another article.

By the 1980s, as running continued attracting more and more converts, clothing makers started figuring it out, and running-specific clothes became easier to find. Finally, there were shorts and tank tops made from fabrics other than cotton – fabrics that wicked moisture instead of absorbing sweat and hold it against the body making runners cold and contributing to chaffing. Running shorts started coming with inner linings and side vents, which are still mainstay features today. The men’s shorts even gained an inch or two, which no one complained about. The fact that there were “men’s” and “women’s” running clothes was extremely significant, as women were not only accepted into the sport, but finally encouraged to join.

By the 1990s, running clothes started looking much like they do today. The only cotton t-shirts seen on runners were finisher shirts, which were not actually intended for running in – just for bragging rights. Clothes were very specialized for men and women, contouring to all the appropriate curves and holding everything in place with comfortable support.

Today, running pants come in as many different styles as blue jeans; running tops have so many expertly hidden pockets that you can nearly pack an entire suitcase in your shirt so long as everything is folded tightly; and there are so many types of sports bras for all shapes and sizes that no woman can ever use ‘I’m too big’ as an excuse not to run.

Running attire has made a long, gradual makeover from the ragamuffin uniform of skinny social outcasts to clothing so sleek, stylish, and flattering than people opt to wear it around even when not running. Hell, even people who wouldn’t run from a bear find themselves donning running clothes as part of their everyday attire. Perhaps the best thing about running gear is that it’s intention is purely to help you move in a way that will also help you feel and look better as you age. Now if only jeans would follow suit…

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