Sportswear 1920s Style

Louisa Amelia Jane Vintage Fashion Store

Dressed For Exercise

This week I acquired this marvellous 1920s knitting pattern book called "Leach's Sports Coats & Cardigans". It really made me sit back and think about how the gear we exercise in has changed so dramatically over the last century.

These ladies do not look as though they are about to work out in the gym. At a stretch, the two on the right may be contemplating a round of golf. Our definition of sportswear has certainly changed, along with our idea of what kind of exercise is appropriate for women.

Anyone For Tennis?

"Ladylike" sports such as horseback riding, archery, golf, tennis and skating were considered appropriate for women. The only sports mentioned in my 1920s publications are golf and walking, although the numbers of women participating in  sport was on the rise, part of their quest for equal rights.

What to wear had been a problem for Victorian and Edwardian women who were inclined to sport, restricted as they were by corsets and long dresses.

Victorian and Edwardian bodices and blouses were also very tightly fitted around the back and sleeves, clearly designed for a woman requiring little movement, and it certainly wouldn't have been possible to swing a golf club wearing that kind of garment. Tennis would have been challenging in the fitted bodices on the ladies above.

Chanel Revolutionises Women's Fashion

Coco Chanel, herself a keen sportswoman, introduced cotton jersey fabric into her designs for women's wear in 1916. Until this time it had only been used for men's underwear. The term "jersey" referred to the knit nature of the fabric, a reference to the traditional fishermen's jersies from the Channel Islands.

Here she is on the golf course in 1910 wearing a jacket similar to those seen in my pattern boo

Chanel was well known for wearing men's clothing and for incorporating aspects of it into women's wear. As a keen sports woman, she enjoyed the freedom it gave her, and the 20s were all about freedom for women.


This woman appears to be out for a healthy and ladylike stroll - town or country.

Stretch Clothing Arrives

The stretch property of hand knitted garments, for example, was now in demand and machine knit fabric began to be mass produced in the textiles industry. Now, no longer just for underwear, but thanks to increasing demand from women to be able to move freely  fabrics such as interlock, or jersey, were used for every day casual wear, and even for couture wear, thanks to Chanel. Casual clothing became much more common as women, embracing their new lifestyles, reacted against the strait laced corsets of their mothers and grandmothers. Home knitting became hugely popular and this is the period where we start to see pattern books for knitted women's garments becoming widely available.

This jacket is embroidered or "darned" all over, and yes, it's in the sports wear book.

The term sportswear gradually became a term used to describe casual clothing and was in use up until the 1960s and 1970s. Hollywood costume designer, Edith Head, recalled how Bing Crosby would begin every costuming interview with her with the question "Can I wear a sports jacket?" He hated having to get dressed up.

Very little knitwear of this period has survived to the present day. Moths eat it, it shrinks. It gets unravelled and knittted into something else. If you are lucky enough to find something, it's unlikely to be in wearable condition. Luckily, I have the pattern books to enjoy the photos of the garments. I could even knit myself one. Maybe, one day.

 Louisa Amelia Jane Vintage Fashion Store



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