Podium Chic – A Brief History Of Olympics Fashion

When it’s Olympics time at Judy HQ, we’re thinking three things. First things first, it’s marvelling at how many great sportsmen and women we’ve produced on such a tiny island. Second, it’s deciding that we DEFINITELY need to get back in the gym. But Third, it’s checking out all those sleek, colourful sporting outfits and wondering where such fabulous garments originated. So without further ado (and no chatting at the back), here is our whistlestop tour of how Olympic fashion has developed over time.

1896 gymasts olympics 1896

Not considering it’s ancient greek incarnations, the Olympics were originally introduced in the late 1800s. Women’s involvement was still very much taboo and the event was nowhere near the globally-incorporating event it is today. Athlecticwear was pretty much non-existent as competitors were expected to wear their ‘sunday best’ – they’re nothing streamlined about these outfits!

1932 olympics - basics of the modern uniform 1932

By 1932, the classic ‘Olympian’ look was starting to be established – think preppy Americana with modest hemlines and big ‘champion’ smiles. Fabrics were still somewhat limited and colours muted but the ‘track and field’ silhouette was starting to take shape, a look that was to last well into the late 1900s.

60s polyester and sparkles

Like all fashions and homewares, sportswears saw a huge shift in the 60s – suddenly colour, pattern and texture was in. Gymnastic uniforms were the first to get the full glitter and polyester treatment, and athletes began to show a little more personality with skimpy fits, of-the-era hairstyles, jewellery and accessories.


Ah, the decade of patriotism! The glitter and glam of midcentury remained, but as the Olympic Games entered an era of commercialisation that saw it beamed into the homes of millions around the world, it became more important than ever for Olympians to show their country colours. This is when ‘flag outfits’ truly began, as exemplified by this iconic star-spangled-banner look from 1984.

1990s - windbreaker suit, sportswear as dailywear

As we rolled into the 90s, the exercise craze of the 80s lived on, and olympic outfits started to resemble what we were wearing on the street. The windbreaker suit became a staple look for off-duty Olympians, with Nylon high on the agenda. If you’re after a replica, the 1996 Atlanta Olympics was merchandised heavily, meaning that even now these items sometimes crop up at our kilo sale – worth looking out for!

simone biles stella mccartney, designer collaborations

Modern Day
Athleisurewear is now firmly bedded in our consciousness, and with significant advances in fabric technology, there is more demand than ever for sporting attire to look and feel great for the wearer, creating a bodily environment that allows them to perform to the best of their ability. Designer collaborations are coming in thick and fast – just look at Great Britain’s Rio 2016 uniform as designed by Stella McCartney. Finally, sportswear has it’s very own place in fashion, and it’s obtainable for us ‘normal’ people too – even if we can only manage a few reps in the gym before hitting the McDonalds drive-through.

Fancy a hunt for your own slice of Olympics fashion? Check out our upcoming events here –

A Vintage History Lesson – Dating Vintage Clothing

il_fullxfull.235234178So you’ve found your soulmate in suede, your dreamboat in denim… But before your relationship goes any further, you want to know the age gap. Perfectly understandable. Ladies and Gentlemen, a lesson in vintage history… no falling asleep at the back!

When dating vintage, the style of the sleeve can often be a telltale sign based on principles of what was fashionable in each decade. They can also reveal ‘recycled vintage’ – 80s-does-50s dresses often have puff shoulders and wide armholes, whereas original 50s designs generally have quite snug-fitting sleeve cuffs. Popular sleeve styles in the 1940’s were puff shoulders and cap sleeves, where sleevless styles are very typical of the 60s. Look also at the length of the skirt – the timeline below briefly illustrates skirt styles and lengths from the 1930s to early 60s.

Zippers & Closures
Metal zippers were first used in garments in the 1930s, but during that era they were rare. Zippers first became available in plastic in 1963, and by 1968 nylon coil zippers were used in practically every mass produced garment. If for example you’re looking at a circle skirt, a metal zip will be a good sign that it’s an original 1950s skirt, while a plastic zip can be an indicator of a later item. Invisible zips were invented in the 1950s but only really became ubiquitous much later, around the late 80s / early 90s. The placement of the zip can also help – 1930s-1940s dressers usually had a zip in the side seam, whereas dresses from the 50s onwards favoured a placement at the centre back.

The label can be full of clues as to an item’s age, making it your go-to when dating vintage. American and Canadian-made clothing often has a union label, which can help determine a date range. Clothing with the distinctive CC41 Utility label was produced during the period of fabric rationing, which ran from 1941 to 1951. The style of the label itself can be an indicator: early-mid 20th century labels were usually woven, until around the 1960s printed satin labels started to become more common. The writing on the label is another clue: earlier labels often feature script fonts, while in the 60s and 70s modern, hippie-influenced fonts were frequently used.

If there is a size label this can also help: vintage sizing was smaller than modern, so if it’s marked a size 14 but is clearly tiny, chances are it’s got some age to it. In British sizing, a size 14 in the 1940s was a 32” bust. By the late 1960s it was a 36” bust and remained so into the early 80s; it’s now a 38” bust.

In 1971 the Federal Trade Commission released the “Care Labelling Rule” which required all manufacturers (including importers) of apparel to include garment care instructions on an interior tag. The care label tag is required to include one method of care to keep the garment in quality condition, such as “machine wash cold” or “dry clean only.” If the garment was made by a brand but is missing care instructions, you can confidently conclude the piece was produced before 1971.

In the end…
Having run these quick tests, you can now make an informed decision whether to go ahead and part with your cash. So that 1950s dress turns out to be 80s-does-50s? If you like it, don’t let that stop you from buying it – you’ll still look great!. At the affordable vintage fair, we make this easy for you with bargains galore – who knows what rare and elderly items you might discover?