The term sweatshirt was first used in 1925 and it referred to a long sleeved, collarless, oversized pullover. The popular material was thick fleecy cotton and it was often grey in colour. They were originally worn by athletes as a way to keep warm prior to their events and the close relationship with sporting events has held true over the years. The real boost in popularity of the sweatshirt grew when American universities and colleges started to print their names on to the tops. It became the fashion symbol of the time for the girlfriends of the college’s sports stars to be wearing their sweatshirt. This simple method of displaying school pride had a marked effect on sales of the sweatshirt and it has continued to this day.
From the 1930s the sweatshirt has had a close link with the hoodie. A sweatshirt with a hooded top is known as a hoodie although the term hoodie has only become used since the 1990s. They were first produced in 1934 by Champion Products so that laborers in the mills and in the fields in New York State, could keep warm during the winter months.
Gradually elastic armbands and necklines were introduced as a way of keeping the warmth within the garment. In the 1970’s the hip hop craze created a huge market for the hoodies. It became fashionable for break dancers to wear them in order to keep them warm before they performed. They were also worn by those most feared on the streets so naturally the youngsters were attracted to them. The graffiti artists would also use dark hoodies as their night time work would mean being outside in cold evenings. The dark colours would also not attract attention and the large pockets were ideal for storing their paint cans.
In the 1980s there was the rise of extreme sports, such as skateboarding and surfing. These sports gravitated toward the sweatshirt and the hoodie in particular. The casual wearing garment just went will with the look that these extreme sports participators wanted to be associated with.
As the major fashion labels started to be attracted towards these types of extreme and beach sports the hoodies now became a real money-making business. The previous years had seen them being popular as a result of the fact that they were effective and relatively cheap. The youth were now buying them as they wanted to be associated with a fashion brand and the appearance of a company’s name on a garment would see the price of the top rise considerably. These brand names such as Quicksilver became closely related to surfing and skateboarding, so their appeal to the young naturally increased.
The beauty of the hoodie is that it has transcended both sporting practicality with subcultural dress and fashion. As well as it being a sensible item to wear, keeping the wearer warm, it is also a naturally “baggy item” that goes well with casual trousers, basketball shoes and baseball caps to give a real anti-establishment feel. There is no doubt that there is a certain sinister element as the hoods can be used to hide the person’s identity. This was very much the case during the 2011 UK summer inner city riots when the majority of those involved were attempting to hide their identity with the hoodies they were wearing.
The public’s perception of the sweatshirt and the hoodie have come a long way since 1925 and are now a must wear item for many the young society. In an industry where innovation has resulted in much change it is remarkable that one of its most successful products has changed so little over the years.