In 2022, sports gear is taking over fashion
Athleisure was so 2010s. In the 2020s, we’re wearing niche sporting equipment like boxing fits, singlets and jockey helmets.
At the end of the last decade, fashion writers tried to sum up the overarching style of the 2010s. The word that kept popping up? Athleisure. Tight-fitting cycling shorts were popularised by the Kardashian-Jenner family in neutral and earthy tones. Cutesy, oversized sweaters became our new fave looks after they were seen swallowing the body of the biggest popstar of the decade, Ariana Grande. Meanwhile, nearly every fashion brand had some sort of collaboration trainer on the horizon — whether Pradidas and Miu Balance or Off-White x Nike. Then, lockdowns were enforced and we all ended up dressing like Princess Diana on one of her casual off-days all year long, when all we wanted was to go out in a slinky LBD revenge look and show our exes what they were missing.
Naturally, now that in 2022 restrictions are mostly lifting and we’re returning to the real world, athleisure just isn’t giving enough for our social outings. Instead, according to the SS22 and AW22 collections that went down the runway, our new aesthetic comprises very specific sports fits. There were classic baseball motifs from Off-White, Louis Vuitton, Boss and Moschino (the latter even having a branded bat); 80s athletics ensembles at Alled Martinez; hiking-ready garments from Phipps; figure skating-esque garms at Balenciaga; and Fila-collab cut-out vests from Y/Project. But then there were the items that look like they were hauled from the lost-and-found of the Olympic changing rooms. Think: Chanel jockey hats, football padding at Gucci and wrestling singlets clinging to the bodies of male models courtesy of designers including Loewe and Lazoschmidl.
Can we catch a ball let alone play American Football? Absolutely not. Will we still be wearing the Dior Fall 22 shoulder and chest padding come September? Probably. Would we actually use the S.S. Daley SS22 singlets for WWE wrestling or an Off-White AW22 jockey helmet to go riding? It’s very unlikely. But whether it’s boxing looks or equestrian cosplay, each of these collections usurp the usual rules of who can wear these items and the social groups based around class and gender that differ with each sport.
You don’t need to have watched the Cal Jacob’s queer origin story montage in Euphoria Season 2 to see the homoerotic undertones of wrestling. The hyper-masculinity of the fight holds and unsaid intimacy when two bodies are pressed together with little but thin, easily-removable pieces of lycra to separate them. But off the wrestling ring, if fitted vest tops and mesh were the it-look of the gays’ summer 2021, then this year we’re wearing singlets. At least, that’s what this season’s designers are saying. Steven Stokey-Daley made his LFW debut with a boarding school-esque burgundy singlet with white edges in his SS22 collection, reminiscent of Victorian mens underwear. Glittery disco-ready singlets were a part of Loewe’s summer offerings, while Rick Owens had bodysuits with navel-grazing, nipple-revealing cut outs. Lazoschmidl’s wrestling-wear was in neon latex held up by black bands and Alled-Martinez had an 80s style tight corduroy two-piece reminiscent of the garment with sheer stripes. The horny overtones were most prominent, though, in Central Saint Martins graduate Alex Wolfe’s SS22 collection, where shorts gave the impression of a singlet being stripped off, revealing the sweaty torso underneath.
If Miu Miu SS22 was very ‘school’s out for summer’ – hiking up your skirt and cropping your shirts to very un-uniform-regulation heights – then AW22 was for the sports tryouts at the beginning of the new academic year. That highly-memed Miu Miu SS22 mini skirt was given a tennis whites makeover, paired with cropped polo tops with sporty stripes along the ab-skimming hem. There were also some ballet slippers and leg warmers for those looking to get as much college credit from their extracurriculars as possible.
The lines between soccer and fashion have been blurring for a while now (remember those nappa-leather football boot mid-heels from Miu Miu’s summer 2021 collection?). Recently we’ve had Phil Foden on the cover of i-D, Marcus Rashford as Burberry model and Declan Rice in full Prada for the debut issue of CircleZeroEight. But if the players are taking over the editorials and the campaigns, then it is the referee that’s become a muse on the runway. In JW Anderson’s Fall collection – a show dedicated to British party culture that felt like the first night of a Freshers’ Week – sporty polo tops were turned into teeny playsuits and twirling hoop-hemmed skirts. Or every inch of the classic footie garment was covered in sequins like a Bratz doll, in fun hues of blue, pink and gold; alongside a matching pair of shorts. Over at Coach AW22, whistles came attached to kinky leather chokers that rendered them unusable.
When an eight-year-old stallion trotted along the runway at Chanel’s SS22 couture show in January, there was no question of whose horse is dat. Upon its back was Princess Charlotte Casirgahri of Monaco, granddaughter of Grace Kelly and a keen rider, in the historical French house’s renowned tweed jacket with a matching jockey hat, gloves and riding boots. It was a fitting entrance for a collection that played on avant-garde constructivism alongside early 20th century attire ready for a day at the races — sans the fascinators. Two months later, Chanel artistic director Virginie Viard debuted the next Fall ready-to-wear collection that included an array of moss-toned riding boots and wellies associated with the high-class sport.
But equestrian gear — a big element of luxury high fashion in the past — wasn’t only seen at Chanel, a house already known for its elegance and luxury through tailoring. In true My Fair Lady fashion, in his final collection for Off-White, Virgil Abloh played on the concept of code-switching (the act of changing one's looks, behaviours and mannerisms to fit into a different social group) with jockey helmets accessorised with a baseball cap rim. Or were they baseball caps heightened with a jockey helmet structure? At Gucci, also known for its equestrian heritage, protective headgear was adorned with the three stripes of their adidas collaboration. In Palomo Spain’s SS22 collection, helmets were worn by male models in nipple-baring body-suits, floral corset tops and Tudor-style boots with overstated gold buckles. At Hermés too – a brand that started as a saddle, harness and bridle maker – riding boots, perhaps less suited for the mud of the field, came in a variety of suedes, paired with matching knee-high socks and a variety of form-fitting garments with all the flexibility needed to mount a mare.
When Maria Grazia Chiuri brought out boxing silks in her SS22 collection it was quite the surprise. As our fashion director noted in his review, “this is so not what we’ve come to expect from Maria Grazia”. But ever since 2002-era Xtina — newly stripped of her Mickey Mouse overlord and embracing her sexuality — wore a pair of chaps and a striped bra top as she threw punches in a boxing ring, the sport and its codes have been a vision of unapologetic empowerment. A pair of baggy boxer shorts in Ludovic De Saint Sernin’s Desir collab look like they might be directly inspired by the music video in question, the y2k flames and rhinestone detailing reminiscent of the colour scheme of Xtina’s wardrobe. But in Maria Grazia Chiuri’s case, the neon-toned boxing attire with matching shorts, bra tops and robes alongside bandage wrapped fists showcased a new kind of contemporary woman. One ready to fight.
Is there anyone more quintessentially American than the footballer? Under his helmet, squared off shoulder padding and garments ripped by the scrum. He — and in its idolatry it is often specifically a he — is the peak of patriotism. In high school movies, he may not be the brightest but he is the one chivalrously and honourably ready to protect the herd. But does their omnipotent strength come from within or from the uniform? In Gucci’s collaboration with adidas, shoulder pads formed the basis of waist-cinching tops as strong as the bones of a corset. Christian Dior’s high-tech AW22 collection had its models protected by white heat-sensitive padding across the shoulders and chest, the exaggerated black cross-stitch holding the pieces together reminiscent of the ball itself.
Cali designer Eli Russell Linnetz has toyed with the vision of the football player as a hero too. In his SS22 collection, feather-winged angelic bodies (the fallen who gave their life for the game), stood in tighty whities and shoulder pads under the protection of their helmets. Six months later, for his AW22 collection, Eli brought the character back as a disfigured plaster-covered man on a gurney; embodying an all-American story spanning both decades and collective memories. It took us from limping off the war field, to a Stars and Stripes dripped Uncle Sam and back to the boy’s locker room post-match — the excitement of the win palpable as players peacocked in briefs and half-uniforms. Caught up in the Americana of it all, we half expected models to fist pump the air, with “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” playing over the collection credits.