"Why is the UK obsessed with Tracksuits?"
This is a question someone outside of the UK asked me as they wanted to understand why so many British brands offered tracksuits in the product catalogue. Really and truly it all comes down to how easy and comfortable it is, both factors are just within British nature. At the same time, it has a lot of meaning and background to it which I tried to explain as best as I could.
The tracksuit is a much beloved uniform here in the UK and many people outside of the UK, especially the US, have wondered why tracksuits are so renowned here. To understand this on a deeper level, we have to look back at the history and culture surrounding the tracksuit.
We’re travelling all the way back to 1939 when sportswear brand Le Coq Sportif innovated the first tracksuit in history, which was then referred to as the “Sunday Suit”. It was likely named after reasons we will get on to later. While the late 1930s is when the tracksuit was born, it didn't get fully embraced until the 1960s. American sprinters such as John Carlos and Tommie Smith bought them into the light when they were seen wearing matching tops and bottoms which at the time were made out of cotton or terry cloth with some tracksuits utilising buttons instead of zippers. This is the stage where the name evolved into tracksuits as it's what the athletes wore on track.
In 1967, the tracksuit officially earned its stripes thanks to the help of Adidas who collaborated with German football legend Franz Beckenbauer. The status of the tracksuit only grew from there. Other sportswear brands such as Nike and Puma all wanted a piece of the pie and offered their own pieces. Between the 70s and 80s, sports and fitness saw a rise and this further helped accelerate the tracksuit's popularity.
You might be asking, what does all this have to do with Uk and its obsession? Now we get into the culture surrounding the tracksuit. Fast forward to the UK in the early 2000s, we stumble upon grime music. Birthed by black culture, Grime is a foundational genre for UK rap music. If you didn't know, the genre has an electronic / garage-style sound with influences of jungle, dancehall, ragga and hip-hop. Grime artists would then rap over choppy beats with quick flows and aggressive deliveries. These artists are responsible for making the tracksuit a status symbol in UK culture. The likes of Skepta with his hit song “Shutdown” and Stormzy with his breakout song “Shut Up” are two of many UK classics that encapsulate this culture better than I can explain. From the gritty neighbourhoods, the diverse cultures, the chicken and chip shops to the tall tower blocks of London, this is only a snapshot of what that culture is about.
In simple terms, the tracksuit is much respected due to its casual and comfortable wear. It's easy and quick to put on and can have a very stylish look to it. But to UK street culture, it goes a little deeper than that. Skepta’s bar sums up the emotion tied to the tracksuit. These areas of London often consist of marginalised black communities and to them, wearing the tracksuit is almost a thing of anti-establishment, almost like a fuck you to the elitist fashion industry and its dress codes, classism and people who stereotype the community. It symbolises an expression of rebellion and being nonchalant.
Fast forward a little bit to today, we see this now more than ever with the likes of Central Cee wearing a tracksuit to a wedding and his acceptance speech at the mobos. The Nike tech has taken Adidas' throne as the face of tracksuits and while it's a common uniform often linked to the UK, it has spread into the likes of Europe and the US. Of course, both locations have always been rocking with tracksuits, especially Europeans, but I’d argue that pop culture and social media have increased its status in those areas more than ever. The Nike tech is often paired with Air Force 1s, Ballys, Canada Goose Jackets or the iconic LV beanie and scarf set.
Now the space is spoilt with more options for tracksuits than ever with the likes of Corteiz, Unknown UK, Trapstar and more selling their own. There is also no shortage of underground brands offering their alternatives to the already popular tracksuits. It's safe to say the future of tracksuits is in safe hands.
Let’s not forget the variety of tracksuits available. From velour tracksuits to shell suits, sports tracksuits to casual tracksuits, from graphic tracksuits to plain tracksuits and everything in between, the variety a tracksuit offers gives it its mass appeal to become a beloved uniform.