Warm Up Suit, Tracksuit, Athletic Suit, Gym Suit, or Sweat Suit?

I recently asked on Instagram what this suit would be called.  I got a total of five different answers which are in the title of this post. I was not just being curious. I actually had a reason for asking.

The illustration comes from a 1935 – 36 Lowe & Campbell Athletic Goods catalog. My aim was to see if people consider this to be a tracksuit. Judging from the answers I received, the answer is yes, this would be considered to be a tracksuit. But in my vintage catalog, it was referred to as a warm up suit.  Is there a difference? In my mind, no, there is not a difference. Both are two piece athletic suits designed to be worn over a smaller exercise ensemble, like trunks and a tee or tank top.

What got me onto this topic is an online course I’m taking through Coursesa, Fashion As Design. It was written as an accompaniment to the Items: Is Fashion Modern at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I thought that the course would give me a bit of the museum experience, as it is unlikely that I’ll be in New York before the show closes in January.

For a person who loves thinking about fashion in a garment-based way, I’m really enjoying the experience. Much of the material concerns the origins of garments that we consider modern. But the course does a good job of pointing out that garments don’t just materialize. They have histories.

Which brings me to the tracksuit. According to the course, the tracksuit dates from 1939, but if you consider the suit above to be a tracksuit, then it is clearly at least four years older, and I suspect, even older that that. Maybe it is a case of terminology. Maybe 1939 was the first year the researchers found the term “tracksuit”.

I really hate being picky about this, but I can’t help but think this is how fashion myths get started. In two different places today I’ve encountered the myth that Chanel invented the “little black dress” in 1926. As much as I like preciseness, I’d rather have a vague dating reference than an incorrect one. An example is that the course gives the hoodie a vague date of the 1930s. I’ve been looking to find an earlier example, but so far I have not found any athletic wear with a hood before 1935. Of course, the hood itself goes back centuries.

Are there any names for this suit that we missed?

12 Comments

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12 responses to “Warm Up Suit, Tracksuit, Athletic Suit, Gym Suit, or Sweat Suit?

  1. Interesting. My first instinct was that this is a warm up suit. As one could definitely not do a track workout in it (I was a runner; material looks too rigid), I would not call it a tracksuit. As late as the early 2000s when I was competing we referred to similar as a warm up suit. Perhaps this is a question of location as I am not American.

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    • But of course in general a workout would be done in the shorts and singlet worn underneath.

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    • That’s interesting. So you are saying that a tracksuit and a warm up suit are not necessarily the same?

      Anyway, in the details of the catalog, these sets came in six different fabrics, including at least 2 that seem to be knits. And on another page, a man’s set of a sweat shirt and sweat pants was called a “training suit.”

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  2. Chris anderson

    Maybe I would call it athletic uniform. The design then was more of a uniform then a actual athletic garment.

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  3. The jodhpur styling on the pants of the EAST outfit leads me to think of warm up suits for equestrian warm up / work outs for daily use? However the EAST logo is a puzzle for that? Tennis warm up gear of that period had tennis jodhpur styling for ladies competitions.

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  4. Well, I am not a particularly sporty person, but I also don’t think a tracksuit and a warm up suit are the same things. To me, a track suit is something you would actually exercise in; a warm up suit is something you wear to stay warm between events (or at home in the winter.)

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  5. Hmm…I imagine a track suit would be made of thin, very flexible fabric that would allow easy movement. A warm up suit (or sweat suit) would be made of thicker fabric that had the goal of coziness and warmth. Sweat suits are commonly made of sweatshirt fabric, for example.

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