Soft, long-sleeved pullover garments usually made of a cotton or cotton/polyester blend knit fabric that is soft and fleecy on the inside, sweatshirts have long been worn by athletes while warming up, watching from the sidelines, or cooling off after exercising. They began to be worn by nonathletes as well during the 1960s and were actually adopted by designers as part of their collections in the 1980s. By the 2000s sweatshirts were one of the most common parts of a typical person's everyday wardrobe and came in many different fabrics and styles.
The word sweatshirt was first used during the mid-1920s to describe the simple pullover jerseys, usually gray, that athletes wore before and after workouts. During the 1930s Abe and Bill Feinbloom, who owned the Knickerbocker Knitting Company, came up with a technique for applying letters to the knitted sweatshirts. They also designed a sideline sweatshirt, with a hood and a zipper, intended for football players to wear while sitting out of the game. Their company eventually became Champion, one of the best-known American manufacturers of athletic wear.
Sweatshirts were still worn mainly by athletes until the 1960s, when sweatshirts displaying the names of colleges and universities became popular with students. The trend toward informal fashion during the 1960s brought sweatshirts out of the locker rooms and onto the streets, as young people began to dress for comfort instead of following formal dress codes.
It was in the 1980s, however, that sweatshirts went from casual wear to high fashion. During the 1980s fitness fads like jogging and aerobics became very popular. The layered look was also fashionable during the 1980s, and sweatshirts layered well over T-shirts and jeans or spandex leggings. The popular 1983 movie Flashdance even started a craze for ripped sweatshirts such as those worn by the movie's star, Jennifer Beals (1963–). Many people did not want to wear just any sweatshirt; in the image conscious 1980s they demanded sweatshirts with a designer brand name. Upscale designers and retailers filled that need. An extreme example of the designer sweatshirt was a silk sweatshirt, designed by French designer Hermes, which sold for $650. American designer Norma Kamali (1945–) spread the sweatshirt's appeal even further when she designed a range of women's fashions made out of soft, fleecy sweatshirt material. Loose and comfortable, sweatshirts became a basic part of almost everyone's wardrobe, and their popularity continued into the twenty-first century.
Carnegy, Vicky. Fashions of a Decade: The 1980s. New York: Facts on File, 1990.
Feldman, Elane. Fashions of a Decade: The 1990s. New York: Facts on File, 1992.