Sportswear is a formidable force in the current men’s fashion arena. Whether overtly athletic or merely gesturing in the direction, sports-inspired pieces have repeatedly cropped up on runways since the varsity jacket made a comeback in 2010.
Of course, sportswear and fashion have been team players for nearly a century, first becoming close when the restrictive nature of formal wear lost its appeal in the new, modern, industrialised world of the early twentieth century.
Since then, athletic-inspired aesthetics have continued to evolve, making their presence particularly felt in fashion during the ‘cult of the body’ 1980s and minimalism of the 1990s.
In the past couple of years, coinciding with the London Olympics, the distance between the runway and the running track has become smaller again, as sweatpants move from gym benches to show venues and trainers from treadmills to slick magazine editorials. But just what counts as fashionable sportswear? And how can the modern gent come across suavely sporty, rather than just gym-ready?
Before breaking down the key elements of a sporty yet smart look, let’s get one thing clear: contemporary fashion’s idea of sportswear is less about what is actually appropriate for a workout and more focused on sport-influenced cuts, silhouettes and fabrics, as well as an overall minimalist, rigorous and clean aesthetic.
Nailing the look means understanding sportswear on a more abstract level, extracting elements that work for your specific wardrobe.
Key Piece: The Crew Neck Sweater
Much of fashion’s recent infatuation with sportswear has been centred around the sweatshirt, especially since Riccardo Tisci’s bold Givenchy Rottweiler sweaters made their rip-roaring appearance on the autumn/winter runway back in 2011.
The trend shows no sign of fading today, with Italo Zucchelli of Calvin Klein Collection emblazoning the label’s signature boxy sweatshirts with the names of Calvin Klein’s most iconic fragrances, from Eternity to Obsession, for his AW14 collection:
An athletic wear staple, the sweatshirt combines utility with comfort and works for both leisure and more formal occasions, provided you take the right tack. While the statement sweats mentioned above are testament to the versatility of this classic piece of sportswear, a smart and sporty look is best hinged around less fussy, minimalist versions.
Stick to styles that are unadorned for the most part, preferably in a pared-back colour palette, and keep an eye out for timeless detailing like v-stitching and raglan sleeves.
For the classicist, vintage-inspired ‘luxe’ styles, often crafted from loopback cotton or jersey blends, reference old-school sportswear and help to create a smart, modern yet decidedly simple aesthetic. Brands to check out on the current market include Orlebar Brown, Sunspel and A.P.C.
Alternatively, for guys who want something that’ll cut a refined figure with a little edge, on trend leather panelled styles or sweatshirts with bold contrast block stripes are ideal, with Blood Brother, Acne, Tim Coppens, Topman, River Island and ASOS all offering several eye-catching options for SS14.
Try wearing your sweatshirt over a button-down shirt (done up to the top and collar tucked under the crew neck) for a slick approach, or under a sharp-fitting bomber jacket for something less dressy.
Remember: keep detailing simple, the colour palette confined to two or three colours at most and look for classic or boxy crew neck cuts.
- Cheap Monday Sweatshirt
- Lhomme Rouge Collage Sweatshirt In Navy
- Sunspel Loopback Cotton-jersey Sweatshirt
- Reiss Codey Midweight Crew Neck Jumper Black
- Orlebar Brown Dudley Loopback Cotton-jersey Sweatshirt
- A.p.c. Contrast-sleeve Loopback Cotton-jersey Sweatshirt
- River Island Black Leather-look Shoulder Patch Sweatshirt
- Saint Laurent Leather Panel Sweatshirt 185532
- Tim Coppens Leather-trimmed Cotton-blend Sweatshirt
- Asos Stripe Sweatshirt
- Polo Ralph Lauren Striped Jersey Sweatshirt newport Navy/white
- Carven Orange Paint Stripe Sweatshirt
Cuffed Sweatpants & Slim-Cut Chinos
Striking the optimal balance between smart and sporty means being astute when choosing what to team with the core of your outfit.
Slim cotton joggers that taper through the leg to a fitted cuff at the ankle aren’t necessarily out of bounds, but to ward off a just-got-out-of-the-gym effect you’ll need to be selective about the style.
It goes without saying that neutral colours like grey, black and midnight blue work best in this case to accent the cuffed sweatpants’ smarter side, rather than its casual origins. Look to the likes of Thom Browne’s SS14 pre-collection for inspiration; his jet black cuffed sweatpants with signature four-stripe detail provide a goal to aim for, while high street brands like Topman, Boxfresh and Religion come up trumps for affordable alternatives.
However, if cuffed sweatpants don’t quite say ‘classic’ to you, take your cues from tennis greats like René Lacoste and Fred Perry, whose white pleat-front chinos defined smart sportswear during the 1930s and 1940s.
Lightweight stretch cotton versions offer the perfect balance of style and comfort, with notable styles coming from Diesel and Reiss this season.
- Antony Morato Sweatpant Anchor Applique
- Allsaints Madison Sweat Pant
- Religion League Sweatpants
- Acne Studios Fred Cotton Track Pants 186893
- Y-3 Razor-pocket Track Pants 187950
- Topman Charcoal Salt And Pepper Skinny Joggers
- He By Mango Slim-fit Pleated Chinos
- Reiss Medway Classic Twill Chinos Stone
- Nn.07 Simon Slim-fit Brushed Cotton-twill Chinos
- Reiss Tullum Heavyweight Twill Chinos Grey
- Diesel Chinos Chi-reg Straight Fit
- Selected White Trousers
Best Foot Forward
Before you start scrambling for the New Balance, be aware that suits and sneakers aren’t the only way to reach the smart-meets-sport sweet spot. Unlike the other elements of this look, there’s a good deal of leeway here but, that said, the top three fail-safe silhouettes are: plimsolls, smart trainers and casual Derbies.
Plimsolls are good for achieving a throwback/retro look that’s sporty through and through, but you’ll need to be discerning in selecting the right style. Done right (high-quality, sturdy construction), plimsolls are comfortable and effortlessly stylish. Done wrong (shoddy quality, the footwear equivalent of a £3 umbrella), however, and you’ll never quite break free of their ‘cheap tat’ tag.
Smart trainers are the most informal option to round out the look, but consider colour and pattern carefully. Any carefully assembled smart sports ensemble will suffer from neon, print-covered Nike Airs. Opt for regular or mid-top trainers and don’t totally ignore that old adage: ‘the devil’s in the details’, since considered touches will give an otherwise plain look that all-important edge.
White, grey and black are the most suitable hues for creating your own take on sports luxe, while leather details, contrast laces and/or soles in colour-pop pastels blend retro panache with contemporary flair.
For a nattier effect, opt for a Derby shoe: a smart but resolutely simple silhouette that has its roots in country sports. Fabric options are wide and varied for SS14 so feel free to experiment with suede in pastel shades for a particularly summery feel, or leather in colours like white and black for a more sleek sporting look.
- Fred Perry Kingston Leather Plimsolls
- Supremebeing Stitch Pu Trainers In White
- Topman Black Warlord Fleck Sports Lace Ups
- Common Projects Achilles Leather And Mesh Low Top Sneakers
- Vans California Era Decon Plimsolls
- Folk Suede And Leather Sneakers
- Asos Derby Shoes In Leather
- Menlook Label Beige Suede Derbies
- Ami Crepe-soled Suede Derby Shoes
For an Ivy League-inspired look that’s more refined but still sporty, try a lightweight sports coat or unstructured blazer in cotton, seersucker or a cotton-linen blend. These versatile jackets, which are much more breathable than their autumn/winter counterparts, instantly add a touch of casual sophistication to any outfit – ensuring you appear rakish rather than run-of-the-mill.
For those that want to stand out with a printed style, madras screams preppy while seersucker and boating stripes conjure images of gentlemanly sporting events like the Oxbridge Boat Race. Alternatively, if you want to ensure versatility, opt for a neutral block-colour – we recommend white to tie-in with the summer cricket influence.
If you’re not all that hot on tailoring, rest assured, the varsity/baseball jacket is still very much having its moment. Don’t go too crazy colour-wise; the silhouette has been trending for several seasons now and shouting about it is bound to give you away as arriving late to the party. Try grey marl, navy or white styles and look for luxe details like contrast sleeves in leather or tipped collars and cuffs.
- Hackett Slim-fit Striped Wool Blazer
- Topman Selected Homme Check Blazer
- Thom Browne Slim-fit Cotton-seersucker Blazer
- Blue Stripe Italian Seersucker Slim Fit Jacket
- J. Crew Ludlow Sportcoat In Glen Plaid Italian Silk-linen
- Topman Selected Homme Stripe Blazer
- Reiss Trill Suede Bomber Jacket Stone
- American Apparel Baseball Jacket
- Loro Piana Silk And Cashmere-blend Varsity Cardigan
Perfecting Your Game: Accessories
With the core bases covered, it’s worth accenting your outfit with some key accessories.
Add a flat peak cap and barrel bag for a Raf Simons-inspired casual look. Flat peaks offer a more seasonally-appropriate alternative to beanies while still remaining on trend.
Be sure to complement your overall approach with a minimal leather or cotton cap that is, where possible, logo-free. Streetwear brand Stussy offers styles that, although often branded, don’t so much scream, as merely speak their quality.
A barrel bag is an ideal sports and utility-inspired addition. Make sure yours is an integral part of your look without drifting into statement territory. The idea is to carry the subtle theme throughout your accessories, using them to help anchor any prints or bold lettering on your apparel.
As for socks, a smartened up sportswear look lends itself well to going sock-less, but if you do end up including a pair make sure they’re white or grey and that, if they’re patterned, it’s collegiate stripes not candy-hued colour-blocks.
- Rick Owens Drkshdw Drkshdw Canvas & Leather Flat Peak Cap
- Topman Black Leather Look Snake Snapback Cap
- Asos Flat Peak Cap
- Asos Canvas Holdall
- Sandqvist Ingo Canvas Barrel Bag In Navy
- He By Mango Pebbled Weekend Bag
- Polo Ralph Lauren 3 Pack Crew Socks
- American Apparel Stripe Calf-high Sock
- American Apparel Stripe Calf-high Sock
Sportswear needn’t mean sloppy. By sticking to minimal, pared-back styles you can craft a variety of comfortable yet stylish looks that don’t sacrifice on fashion or function.
A final word of warning: if you’re into branding, make sure it’s subtle. Adidas’ three-stripes and Nike’s ‘Swoosh’ are examples of universally iconic images that communicate a lot without overloading your look. Smart sportswear isn’t supposed to be trill or swag – it’s all about breezy sophistication.