Mode And Sport at MAD

MAD Mode et Sport

With the Fashion and Sport exhibition, which closed on 7 April, the MAD (Musée des Arts décoratifs de Paris) looked at the changing links between fashion and sport, highlighting fashion as a pretext for sport, and then sport as a pretext for fashion.

The pivotal century in this evolution was the 19th century.

For many historians, it was at this time that sport in the modern sense of the word was born.

Fashion as a pretext for sport

Before the 19th century (we’re not talking about ancient games here), physical activity was a form of entertainment, some of it reserved for the elite.

It’s all about having a good time, looking good and strengthening social ties. It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose. We are at the opposite end of the spectrum from the spirit of competition that is so much in vogue today.

Before the 19th century, fashion was a pretext for sport.

Allusions to fashion have become part of the vocabulary of the sporting world.

  • In the Middle Ages, the knight who emerged victorious from a friendly joust would receive as a gift from his lady the sleeve of her garment, which could be detached by small lacings called “aiguillettes”. The ritual became part of the language of sport, and the expression “remporter une manche” (“to win a sleeve”) is still used today.
  • From the Renaissance onwards, fans of the very popular Jeu de Paume (the forerunner of tennis) got into the habit of donning lighter, often white, clothing.
  • From the 17th and 19th centuries onwards, activities such as horse-riding, hunting, archery and fencing, which were initially utilitarian activities, became leisure activities and eventually became competitive sports.

The 19th century – a pivotal period

The 19th century was a pivotal period, when desport (entertainment) gave way to sport in the modern sense of the term.

Although archers’ outfits were still very similar to fashionable dresses, some disciplines began to evolve towards greater comfort, without losing sight of the need for elegance.

Wool and cotton, which were more comfortable and less messy, replaced silk in many disciplines.

The first breeches appeared to protect the modesty of women riders, who at the time rode in the amazon style for reasons of decency.

Invisible because worn under dresses, this accessory was the first step towards women’s trousers.

The use of tweed and the creation of new shapes that freed up movement transformed the hunting costume in England.

Fencers had to wait until the end of the 19th century for a uniform.

Before the use of electric jackets, it was customary to wear white clothing in order to better see the stains left by the hits, as the points of the weapons were first dipped in ink to make it easier to count the points.

To avoid any unfortunate unbuttoning, the buttoning is asymmetrical.

Gymnastics, which emerged in the nineteenth century as a means of maintaining a healthy body, was equipped at the end of the century with relatively lightweight outfits, consisting of tunics and breeches offering greater range of motion.

The corset disappeared. A slim body and good posture were now ensured by sport.

It was only with the idea of competition and performance that clothing designed specifically for sport appeared in the 19th century.

As team sports became more widespread, tennis, golf and croquet became popular activities for the bourgeoisie.

Men took off their jackets and rolled up the sleeves of their shirts, while women wore shortened dresses.

Cotton, which was light and washable, took pride of place.

Pockets were added to women’s tennis dresses to store balls.

Elegance remained the priority, and performance was not an issue.

Although the 1st modern Olympic Games were reserved for amateurs, the professionalisation of the sport gained ground and accentuated the need for high-performance equipment.

Sport as a pretext for fashion

It was during the inter-war period that sportswear began to be designed in the strict sense of the word:

  • The tracksuit, originally designed to be worn over the outfit to warm the body before and after training, became an essential accessory.
  • The Lacoste shirt, which gave rise to today’s polo shirt, comes from another “sleeve effect”, that of tennis player René Lacoste, who cut off his shirt sleeves in the middle of a match because they were too constricting. With his hosiery partner André Gillier, they went on to develop petit piqué cotton, which absorbs perspiration and lets air through.
  • In 1919, Jean Patou designed a pleated dress for tennis champion Suzanne Lenglen that was particularly short for its time.

Since then, the great names in fashion have been systematically chosen to dress sportsmen and women for major international events such as the Olympic Games.

Since the post-war period, the shapes and fabrics worn by athletes have been incorporated into wardrobes.

The sportswear style has emerged and continued to grow, as shown by the current prominence of polo shirts, tracksuits and sneakers.