Modern-day performance sportswear is all about probing the future for inspiration. A 3D-printed sole unit or temperature-regulating smart fabrics – these technological innovations help the wearer leap hurdles, kick balls and cross finishing lines higher, harder and faster than they otherwise would.
The problem is, sci-fi wonder garments aren’t exactly versatile from a style standpoint. Ever tried pairing a compression top with jeans? Suffice to say it’s a surefire way to get yourself laughed out of the pub. But that doesn’t mean combining sportswear and casualwear is altogether forbidden.
Retro sportswear is about as wardrobe-friendly as athletic gear gets. It may have been initially built with the track and field in mind, but over the years its punchy styling, nostalgic charm and comfort have seen it evolve into a menswear mainstay.
“Label-conscious millennials are now looking to heritage brands to make a statement,” explains Kappa brand manager Joy Young. “Meanwhile, adults seek the comfort of the familiar, and endeavour to recapture trends of their youth.”
This, paired with the fact that you no longer need to sift through rails in a musty old second-hand store to find grail pieces, has created a perfect storm for retro sportswear’s return to form. “It’s now easy to trawl the web for choice vintage pieces,” says Umbro marketing director Jason Fairclough. “For the last decade, it’s all been about being tailored and mature [menswear]; now things are starting to swing the opposite way.”
At the fashion end of things, retro sportswear has also been propagated by several recent trends, which have kept it firmly in the spotlight. The ’90s revival, chunky sneaker madness, and the obsession with old-school brands shared by renegade designers like Demna Gvasalia, Gosha Rubchinskiy and Liam Hodges have all helped to make the look into the phenomena it is today.
Here we dissect the #throwback trend that won’t quit, including how to style it and which brands are doing it best.
3 Ways To Wear Retro Sportswear
Big Logo Energy
Larger-than-life logos have been trending hard for some time, and nowhere are they more present than in retro sportswear.
The key to pulling off big branding is to ensure that no two garments in your outfit are competing for attention. Deploy yours on a T-shirt, sweatshirt or hoodie, and feel free to layer with other pieces should the weather require, but always allow your logo to take centre stage.
Festival style is a notoriously tricky sub-genre of menswear, but not when you’re armed with a selection of retro sportswear staples. These ancient athletic artefacts have found a new home, having swapped the running tracks of yesteryear for the muddy fields of the modern-day festival circuit.
Sporty throwback garb such as track jackets, bucket hats and retro running shoes have all become stalwarts of the style-savvy festivalgoer. They’re laid-back, comfortable and look the part, too. Wear them with football shorts, sunglasses and a logo tee for best results.
Just The Kicks
Embracing old-school athletic gear doesn’t have to mean dressing like you were catapulted through the sportswear rail at your local vintage store. It’s possible to, quite literally, dip your toes into the trend without going full shell suit.
Simple track shoes demand little fanfare, yet are capable of jazzing up just about any outfit with their nostalgic styling and often vibrant colour palettes. Keep the rest of your outfit simple and understated in order to let the shoes do the talking.
5 Key Retro Sportswear Pieces
Investing in a pair of sporty sneakers is perhaps the easiest way to give the retro sportswear trend a go. Look out for simple styling, classic materials like suede and mesh, and stripped-back colour schemes. Check out what Adidas has to offer in the way of classic tennis shoes, or hit up Nike for silhouettes like the Tailwind 79 and Daybreak for all your retro runner needs.
It’s strange how something as basic as wearing a matching jacket and joggers can be such a bold statement, but tracksuits are certainly not for the faint of heart. If you are going to attempt the look, keep the cut of both halves slim (but not skinny), and avoid any whiff of fancy dress by steering clear of anything that looks like it belongs in a gym such as sweatbands.
The retro football shirt has become something of a sportswear-fashion staple. It’s a common sight at European festivals, and has even crossed over into the world of streetwear thanks to transcendent London skate label Palace. To get it right, use it as a statement piece, keeping the rest of your outfit subtle and toned down. Think plain athletic shorts, white tube socks, retro sneakers and a bucket hat for a festival-ready look.
Whether they take the shape of vintage football kit or cropped-above-the-knee jersey styles, retro athletic shorts are worthy of a place in every man’s wardrobe. They’re comfortable, breathable and great for adding a dash of personality to warm-weather outfits.
You don’t have to be hitting home runs on the diamond to don one of these retro beauties. The varsity jacket is one of the most versatile vintage sportswear garments out there, and if you buy right, there’s no reason it can’t be worn with anything from jeans and sneakers to chinos and Derby boots.
5 Retro Sportswear Brands To Buy From
For over a century, Champion has been producing the most rugged athletic gear known to man. The US sportswear brand has produced kits for the NFL, the NBA and the US Olympic basketball team to name a few, while a string of high-profile, streetwear hookups has seen it remain at the cutting edge of cool.
Worn by tennis hotshots in the ’70s, terrace fashion fans in the ’80s, acid-house ravers in the ’90s and high-fashion aficionados over the last few years, Italian brand Fila has a knack for staying relevant. The label’s retro track tops remain a firm favourite, while the inescapable Disruptor sneaker has been instrumental in bringing chunky sneaker madness to the mass market.
Putting the Lancashire town of Bolton on the map for something other than black pudding and cotton mills, British label Reebok has earned a reputation as one of the finest sportswear purveyors on the planet. The brand rose to prominence during the ’80s thanks to its hugely popular aerobic sneakers like the Workout, but in the years since, these nostalgia-laden kicks have cemented their place as firm favourites among the fashion elite.
After crafting kits for the England squad and spending the duration of the ’90s decking out Britpop royalty, Umbro earned its stripes as one of the stalwart labels in retro sportswear. Known for its jazzy football shirts and logo sweatshirts, this British brand is a straight-up institution, and well worth investing in for some nostalgic wardrobe goodness.
When it comes to logo-laden nylon tracksuits, few names are better equipped to deliver the goods than Kappa. The Italian brand started life making socks but soon branched out into other areas of sportswear. Today, it’s recognised as one of the cornerstone brands of the retro sportswear trend, with its taped joggers a solid style investment to this day.