Back to top


Historic costume exhibit pairs sports and fashion

Alyssa Strumbly
September 25, 2018

In the age of athleisure, the latest exhibit from the college’s Historic Costume and Textiles Collection arrives at the perfect time.

The new exhibit explores the intersection between sports and athletic wear and the fashion industry term: sportwear, which refers to separates such as pants, shirts, sweaters and skirts.

Gayle Strege, curator of the collection housed in Campbell Hall, and her team fused the different aspects of the exhibit while offering an evolutionary timeline of casual fashion, both past and present.

“The first ‘sportswear’ definition came around the turn of the 19th to 20th century and initially referred to clothing worn to play sports,” Strege said. "We now call that active wear."

As society and fashion evolved throughout the years, so did the definition of sportswear. The gallery highlights garments from the late 1800s all the way through the 2000s, creating a visual representation of how the trend evolved.

Green golf jacket and colorful print pants


The top floor of the gallery is filled with outfits typically worn to play or engage in many popular sports and outdoor activities of the 20th century, such as bicycling, tennis and golf.

One of the first platforms features a man’s golf outfit from the 1970s, including pants by the designer Lilly Pulitzer. Known for creating garments with bright and colorful patterns, Pulitzer rose to fame in the 1960s after former first lady Jackie Kennedy began wearing her dresses.

Also around this time, some men began adopting the polo shirt, or other variations of a collared shirt, to wear under a sweater or sport jacket. The polo shirt was initially a tennis shirt developed by Rene Lacoste in the late 1920s. It was picked up by both polo players and the Prince of Wales who wore it as a golf shirt.

Prior to that, regular, button-up dress shirts were worn for golf because that it all there was. The new shirts offered flexibility and comfort while playing.

A 1950s linen playsuit by Abercrombie and Fitch


The second definition of sportswear came about in the 1920s to the 1930s in reference to the clothing worn by the spectators of sports events. The practicality of these clothes made them ideal for watching long events.

“In this section, we get more into the casualization of fashion. These clothes were easy to move in and you were not so restricted,” Strege said.

The casual suit by Abercrombie and Fitch, a popular brand headquartered in Columbus, is from the 1930s. Abercrombie was founded in 1892 as a specialty retailer of outdoor goods. It soon expanded to make clothing and eventually grew to become the global brand it is today.

The suit belonged to a member of the Heisey family, owners of the Newark, Ohio, Heisey Glass Company, which manufactured fine glassware.

a 1920s black and white photo of a woman wearing a v-neck sweater and beret, and a man wearing and Ohio State varsity sweater


In the spectator’s clothing section, an Ohio State sweater with the year 1935 across the chest is perhaps the show’s most sentimental piece.

The sweater belonged to an Ohio State alum, Loyal “Dick” Richard, who attended in the early 1930s but left before his intended graduation in 1935.

A photo of Dick wearing the sweater and standing beside his soon-to-be wife, Maxine Wicker, was included with the donation.

The gallery’s charming re-creation of this picture connects current students with a student of the past.

Women's gym costume from the 1920s


The lower level of the gallery highlights the “gym and swim” part of the exhibition.

“We really look into how gym clothes made their way into fashion,” Strege said. “Sweatpants, for example, evolved from clothing worn only in gymnasiums.”

The 1920s women’s gym costume is reflective of the transformative fashion era of the time. The jumpsuit’s shorter hemline at the knee emulates the flapper-style dresses popularized in that era.

This new, shorter hemline made it easier for women to move and engage in gym activities without getting their legs caught in long skirts.

An abstract patterned men's swimsuit, a light blue women's swimsuit and a coral woman's swimsuit


This section of the exhibition brims with garments for bathers, both male and female. A nostalgic piece in this section is the 1930s coral suit previously owned by Ohio State alumna Ruth Ella Moore.

Moore graduated in 1925 before going on to receive both her master’s degree in 1927 and PhD in bacteriology in 1933, all from Ohio State. She was the first African American woman to receive a PhD in the natural sciences.

Not only was she extremely intelligent, but Moore also had great fashion sense. Her one-piece suit radiates beauty and femininity and was the height of fashion of the day with its low-cut back.

three types of men's swimsuits made entirely of wool from the late 1800s to early 1900s


It’s hard to imagine today that men showing their chests could be socially unacceptable, especially when swimming. But that was the case for most men at the turn of the 20th century.

The gray swimsuit was typical from the late 1800s through the early 1900s. Soon two-piece swimsuits became popular and eventually designers decided to ditch the tops all together, creating the template for the modern male swim trunks.

Fun fact: The belts adorning these bathing suits were not only fashionable but also completely necessary. The suits were made entirely out of wool, causing them to become heavy and stretch when wet.

Those belts were essentially safeguarding public beaches from becoming nude beaches.


Suggested Stories