Exploring the Evolution of Fashion and Sportswear: From Elegance to Emancipation



Italian version of

Gianluca Bolelli

Published on

21 set 2023

Less than a year before the Olympic Games, a new exhibition in Paris tells the story of the birth of sportswear and the emancipation of female bodies and wardrobes through sports exercises.

Lacoste couture polo dress by Freaky Debbie – Photographe David Hugonot Petit

Today, many people constantly wear sports-inspired clothing. “Comfort has become very important in the way we dress. It is an element that can no longer be eliminated”, comments Sophie Lemahieu, curator of the exhibition at the Museum of Decorative Arts, inaugurated last Wednesday and active until 7 April.

The exhibition “Mode et sport, d’un podium à l’autre” (“Fashion and sport, from one podium to another”) explores the ties that unite the two universes, from ancient times to the present day, and is the second exhibition on this theme after “Fashion in motion”, currently underway at the Palais Galliera, the fashion museum in Paris.

In the first physical exercises reserved for women, such as archery, practiced with a corset and hat, “elegance takes precedence over performance”, underlines Sophie Lemahieu.

It was then horse riding that brought the first significant female emancipation. In one painting, Marie Antoinette is depicted on horseback, in trousers, which is “hugely modern in the 18th century.”

Cycling allows you to take a further step: the clothes of the time are not suitable and give way to puffy trousers that look like a skirt.

It was during the Roaring Twenties that sport was particularly in focus. Jean Patou, Jeanne Lanvin, Gabrielle Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli transcribe the world of sport into their haute couture garments.

“In the 1920s, fashion designers developed what was the first sportswear. Even in the French language we found this word in magazines, which is no small feat”, underlines Sophie Lemahieu.

Stylist Jean Patou will shorten the pleated skirt of Suzanne Lenglen, the first star of international tennis, to better highlight her “choreographic game”. Afterwards the champion will pose for her, launching the concept of athletes as very luxury testimonials for a company…

The swimmers “raise the threshold of modesty and accept another way of seeing the female body”, continues the curator.

Swimming champion Annette Kellerman adopts a one-piece swimsuit like men in 1900 to perform better.

Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel in 1926, is covered in fat to protect herself from the cold and wears a two-piece.

A more surprising part of the exhibition is dedicated to “athlete-designers” – such as the tennis champion René Lacoste or Emilio Pucci, a skier registered for the Italian Olympic team in the 1930s, or even Ottavio Missoni, in his youth world university champion in the 400m meters and then sixth at the 1948 London Olympics in the 400 hurdles – and their way of conceiving fashion.

Copyright © 2023 AFP. All rights reserved.

2023-09-21 09:09:13
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